Increasing ocean temperatures allow tropical fishes to survive overwinter in temperate waters

Authors

  • WILL F. FIGUEIRA,

    1. Fish Ecology Laboratory, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia
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    • 1Present address: Marine Ecology Laboratories, A11, Centre for Research on Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

  • DAVID J. BOOTH

    1. Fish Ecology Laboratory, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia
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Will F. Figueira, tel. +61 2 9351 2039, fax +61 2 9351 6713, e-mail: will.figueira@bio.usyd.edu.au

Abstract

The southeast coast of Australia is a global hotspot for increasing ocean temperatures due to climate change. The temperate incursion of the East Australian Current (EAC) is increasing, affording increased connectivity with the Great Barrier Reef. The survival of tropically sourced juveniles over the winter is a significant stumbling block to poleward range shifts of marine organisms in this region. Here we examine the dependence of overwintering on winter severity and prewinter recruitment for eight species of juvenile coral reef fishes which are carried into temperate SE Australia (30–37 °S) by the EAC during the austral summer. The probability of persistence was most strongly influenced by average winter temperature and there was no effect of recruitment strength. Long-term (138 years) data indicate that winter water temperatures throughout this region are increasing at a rate above the global average and predictions indicate a further warming of >2 °C by the end of the century. Rising ocean temperatures are resulting in a higher frequency of winter temperatures above survival thresholds. Current warming trajectories predict 100% of winters will be survivable by at least five of the study species as far south as Sydney (34 °S) by 2080. The implications for range expansions of these and other species of coral reef fish are discussed.

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