The impacts of climate change in coastal marine systems



Anthropogenically induced global climate change has profound implications for marine ecosystems and the economic and social systems that depend upon them. The relationship between temperature and individual performance is reasonably well understood, and much climate-related research has focused on potential shifts in distribution and abundance driven directly by temperature. However, recent work has revealed that both abiotic changes and biological responses in the ocean will be substantially more complex. For example, changes in ocean chemistry may be more important than changes in temperature for the performance and survival of many organisms. Ocean circulation, which drives larval transport, will also change, with important consequences for population dynamics. Furthermore, climatic impacts on one or a few ‘leverage species’ may result in sweeping community-level changes. Finally, synergistic effects between climate and other anthropogenic variables, particularly fishing pressure, will likely exacerbate climate-induced changes. Efforts to manage and conserve living marine systems in the face of climate change will require improvements to the existing predictive framework. Key directions for future research include identifying key demographic transitions that influence population dynamics, predicting changes in the community-level impacts of ecologically dominant species, incorporating populations’ ability to evolve (adapt), and understanding the scales over which climate will change and living systems will respond.