The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has led a three-year international study into the effects of climate change, finding that marine species are moving closer to the poles at a rate of 72km every 10 years.
Marine ecologists Elvira Poloczanska and Anthony Richardson led the literature review with a team of 19 researchers from Australia, USA, Canada, UK, Europe and South Africa.
Dr Poloczanska explained how the marine environment is changing much faster than on land:
“The leading edge or ‘front line’ of a marine species’ distribution is moving towards the poles at the average rate of 72 kilometres per decade, which is considerably faster than terrestrial species moving poleward at an average of six kilometres per decade.
“This is despite sea surface temperatures warming three times slower than land temperatures.”
The study also found that the timing of breeding and migration are, on average, occurring much earlier in the sea with marine species advancing by 4.4 days each decade which is also much faster than land based species which are breeding around 2.3 – 2.8 days earlier each decade.
The researchers also found that Australia’s south-east tropical and subtropical species of fish, molluscs and plankton are shifting much further south through the Tasman Sea. In the Indian Ocean, there is a southward distribution of sea birds as well as loss of cool-water seaweeds from regions north of Perth.
The findings of the study have been published in Nature Climate Change.