Ocean currents and herbivory drive macroalgae-to-coral community shift under climate warming

Research Highlight

Kelp in need of help

© UMI NO KAZE/a.collectionRF/Getty

Coral is gaining ground from kelp around the coast of Japan.

Global warming puts pressure on plants and animals by shifting the range in which temperature-sensitive species can live.

A team that included Hokkaido University researchers has trawled historical data spanning 65 years on 45 species of seaweed, coral and herbivorous fish in the seas surrounding Japan. They then assessed how the species’ shifting distributions relate to changes in ocean temperature, current strength and direction.

The researchers found that a combination of warming seas and strong poleward currents is bringing tropical corals and fish into temperate waters, where seaweed communities are shrinking as they struggle to adapt to rising temperatures.

Temperate zones provide a promising refuge for coral endangered by global warming, but the loss of Japanese kelp highlights the need to manage the resilience of both these underwater communities.

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  1. PNAS 115, 8990–8995 (2018). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1716826115
Institutions Authors Share
Hokkaido University, Japan
National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), Japan
National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR), ROIS, Japan