Climate change drives poleward increases and equatorward declines in marine species

Reuben A. Hastings, Louise A. Rutterford, Jennifer J. Freer, Rupert A. Collins, Stephen D. Simpson, Martin J. Genner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)


Marine environments have increased in temperature by an average of 1°C since pre-industrial (1850) times [1]. Given that species ranges are closely allied to physiological thermal tolerances in marine organisms [2], it may therefore be expected that ocean warming would lead to abundance increases at poleward side of ranges, and abundance declines towards the equator [3]. Here we report a global analysis of abundance trends of 304 widely distributed marine species over the last century, across a range of taxonomic groups from phytoplankton to fish and marine mammals. Specifically, using a literature database we investigate the extent that the direction and strength of long-term species abundance changes depend on the sampled location within the latitudinal range of species. Our results show that abundance increases have been most prominent where sampling has taken place at the poleward side of species ranges, while abundance declines have been most prominent where sampling has taken place at the equatorward side of species ranges. These data provide evidence of omnipresent large-scale changes in abundance of marine species consistent with warming over the last century, and suggest that adaptation has not provided a buffer against the negative effects of warmer conditions at the equatorward extent of species ranges. On the basis of these results we suggest that projected sea temperature increases of up to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels by 2050 [4] will continue to drive latitudinal abundance shifts in marine species, including those of importance for coastal livelihoods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1572-1577.E2
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2020



  • climate change
  • global warming
  • species abundance
  • species distributions
  • marine organisms

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