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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • climate change;
  • evolutionary theory;
  • fisheries management;
  • life-history evolution;
  • phenotypic plasticity

Abstract

The physical and ecological ‘fingerprints’ of anthropogenic climate change over the past century are now well documented in many environments and taxa. We reviewed the evidence for phenotypic responses to recent climate change in fish. Changes in the timing of migration and reproduction, age at maturity, age at juvenile migration, growth, survival and fecundity were associated primarily with changes in temperature. Although these traits can evolve rapidly, only two studies attributed phenotypic changes formally to evolutionary mechanisms. The correlation-based methods most frequently employed point largely to ‘fine-grained’ population responses to environmental variability (i.e. rapid phenotypic changes relative to generation time), consistent with plastic mechanisms. Ultimately, many species will likely adapt to long-term warming trends overlaid on natural climate oscillations. Considering the strong plasticity in all traits studied, we recommend development and expanded use of methods capable of detecting evolutionary change, such as the long term study of selection coefficients and temporal shifts in reaction norms, and increased attention to forecasting adaptive change in response to the synergistic interactions of the multiple selection pressures likely to be associated with climate change.