Tag Archives: range

Gretta Pecl: Climate Change in Coastal Waters

Gretta Pecl, founder of the Redmap project, which aims to demonstrate tangible effects of climate change to Australia's fishing community

So often the effects of climate change are somewhat intangible to us; the weather may grow warmer, but it’s a slow and gradual process, which can seem entirely at odds with the alarm bells that things like the IPCC report seem to be constantly clanging. As such, demonstrating tangible environmental changes to a community whose livelihood may depend on such changes is a great weapon in the fight against the effects of a warming climate.

With this in mind, marine biologist Gretta Pecl founded the Range Extension Database and Mapping project, also known as Redmap. Redmap aggregates public sightings of fish to show shifts in the distributions of Australia’s marine species, including some that are crucial to our fishers. At the recent ASFB 2018 conference, I sat down with Gretta to talk about changes in marine species distributions, how they’ll affect Australia, and how they might help the public understand the effects of climate change.

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Changing with the Climate

An immature female blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

An immature female blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (Image Credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0])

Signatures of local adaptation along environmental gradients in a range-expanding damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (2018) Dudaniec et al., Molecular Ecology http://doi:10.1111/mec.14709

The Crux

Terrestrial organisms aren’t always stationary entities, they often move around the landscape searching for food, potential mates, or more ideal environments. Over time, these movements may introduce the species into new environments, as some change allows the species to expand their historical range.

An interesting aspect of this shifting of the species range is how the organisms at the edge of the distribution are maladapted to the novel environments, as most of the species will be adapted to conditions at the core of the species range. To overcome this, they must adapt to the new conditions. Successful adaptation is dependent on changes in gene frequencies away from the historical genotypes, with an increase in genes that promote survival in the new habitats. The authors in this study used molecular techniques to identify genes that new environments might select for.

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The Pacific Oyster

The Pacific oyster could make its way further north as the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions warm

Last Monday, I wrote about how climate change can facilitate the spread of non-native and invasive species. Today, we look at a species that whilst problematic now, could spread further throughout Norwegian waters as temperatures rise.

The last time we looked at an ocean-dweller in this series, we saw that while some species may not be great for ecosystems, they can provide an obvious benefit to other aspects of the region, in this case the fishing industry. The Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) was also introduced intentionally for cultivation and is now on the verge of becoming a major problem in Norwegian waters.

What are they?

Because of its tolerance of most environments, the Pacific oyster has become the most widely cultivated oyster in the world, and thus one of the most widely distributed alien species in the world. Originating from the North-West Pacific, around Japan, it’s sometimes referred to as the Japanese oyster. There is some confusion regarding its taxonomy, with it also sometimes referred to as the Portuguese oyster, though it’s possible the two are separate species. They are large, jagged oysters, and occur in marine coastal waters.

How did they get here?

The oysters were imported into waters throughout Scandinavia and most of Northern Europe to replace dwindling stocks of native oysters at various points through the 20th century. Naturally, they eventually established wild populations as well, and are now abundant along Norway’s southern coast. Whilst they have taken over coastlines through much of Europe, their dislike of colder waters means that for now, their local populations are largely constrained to the south of Norway. But increases in temperature, which will occur at an accelerated rate in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, mean that the oyster could spread further north in the coming decades.

1200px-Pacific_oysters

Whilst the Pacific oyster’s place in novel marine food webs is still not particularly well understood, these specific oysters place in their immediate food web is very obvious (Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

What do they do?

Much like the Red King Crab, they transform the local ecosystem into a homogenous mass. They can transform substrate from soft bottomed and muddy to filled with rocks and other oysters and mussels, also paving the way for other alien species, and lowering regional biodiversity by outcompeting and displacing local species. Interestingly though, presence of oysters can often improve water quality in the surrounding regions and heighten ecosystem productivity, though the position of the oyster in novel food webs is not particularly well understood. They also have negative effects for local human populations, making certain areas impossible to use for recreation, as they’re extremely sharp.

How do we stop them?

In other countries, attempts to eradicate wold populations by harvesting them have proved futile, and a 2005 study showed the oyster eradication would also cause substantial harm to the local ecosystem. Warming seas will mean the expansion of the oyster’s range, however this is likely to happen very slowly, so by focusing on the ranges edges it may be possible in the future to limit expansion.

For more information on the oyster, we recommend that you read the following articles:

Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet – Crassostrea gigas by the Online Database of the North European and Baltic Network on Invasive Alien Species

Crassostrea gigas – Cultured Aquatic Species Information Program by the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the United Nations

Invasive Species and Climate Change

The next 50 years will see parts of the planet warm significantly. So how does this impact invasive species?

In this series, we’ve looked mostly at species that have been introduced at defined points in time. The Pink Salmon and the Red King Crab were introduced into Russian waters near Norway in the 50s, the Canada Goose was brought to Europe in the 30s, the Sitka Spruce in the late 1800s. But with the onset of climate change, warmer conditions in the Arctic and sub-Arctic mean that the doors will open for more gradual arrivals. So let’s look at how climate change will facilitate the arrival of these newcomers.

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