Nav: Home

Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species

July 02, 2020

Because fish that are ready to mate and their young are especially sensitive to changes in temperature, in the future up to 60 percent of all species may be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas

In a new meta-study, experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have published ground-breaking findings on the effects of climate change for fish stock around the globe. As they report, the risks for fish are much higher than previously assumed, especially given the fact that in certain developmental stages they are especially sensitive to rising water temperatures. One critical bottleneck in the lifecycle of fish is their low tolerance for heat during mating. In other words, the water temperature in their spawning areas determines to a great extent how successfully they reproduce, making fish particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change - not only in the ocean, but also in lakes, ponds and rivers. According to the researchers' analyses, if left unchecked, climate change and rising water temperatures will negatively affect the reproduction of up to 60 percent of all fish species. Their study was released today in the latest issue of the journal Science.

Organisms have to breathe in order for their bodies to produce energy; this is equally true for human beings and for fish. In addition, we know that the energy needs of humans and animals alike depend on the temperature: when it's warmer, the need for energy rises exponentially, and with it, the need for oxygen. On this basis, it follows that organisms can only adapt to rising temperatures in their immediate vicinity by providing their bodies with more oxygen. But there are certain species-specific limits on this ability; if those limits are exceeded, it can lead to cardiovascular collapse.

Armed with this knowledge, in a new meta-study, experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have investigated in which life phases saltwater and freshwater fish around the world are most sensitive to heat. To do so, the biologists compiled scientific data on the temperature tolerance of 694 fish species and analysed the temperature ranges within which fish can survive as adults ready to mate, as embryos in eggs, as larvae, and as adults outside the mating season.

Most sensitive during the mating season

"Our findings show that, both as embryos in eggs and as adults ready to mate, fish are far more sensitive to heat than in their larval stage or sexually mature adults outside the mating season," says first author and AWI marine biologist Dr Flemming Dahlke. "On the global average, for example, adults outside the mating season can survive in water that's up to 10 degrees Celsius warmer than adults ready to mate or fish eggs can."

The reason for this variable temperature tolerance lies in the anatomy of fish: fish embryos have no gills that would allow them to take in more oxygen. In contrast, fish that are ready to mate produce egg and sperm cells; this additional body mass also needs to be supplied with oxygen, which is why, even at lower temperatures, their cardiovascular systems are under enormous strain.

Every degree of warming increases the pressure on fish stocks

These findings apply to all fish species, and make it clear why fish are sensitive to heat, especially during the mating season and in their embryonic stage. Accordingly, in a second step the team of researchers analysed to what extent water temperatures in the spawning areas of the species investigated would likely rise due to climate change. For this purpose, they employed new climate scenarios (Shared Socioeconomic Pathways - SSPs), which will also be used in the IPCC's next Assessment Report.

Their conclusions confirm that every degree Celsius of warming spells more trouble for the world's fish stocks. "If we human beings can successfully limit climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, only ten percent of the fish species we investigated will be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas due to rising temperatures," explains AWI biologist and co-author Prof Hans-Otto Pörtner. In contrast, if greenhouse-gas emissions remain at a high or very high level (SSP 5 - 8.5), it's likely to produce average warming of 5 degrees Celsius or more, which would endanger up to 60 percent of all fish species.

Limited options for adapting

Those species affected would then be forced to either adapt through biological evolution - a process that would most likely take far too long - or to mate at another time of year or in some other place. "Some species might successfully manage this change," says Flemming Dahlke. "But if you consider the fact that fish have adapted their mating patterns to specific habitats over extremely long timeframes, and have tailored their mating cycles to specific ocean currents and available food sources, it has to be assumed that being forced to abandon their normal spawning areas will mean major problems for them." In addition, fish living in rivers and lakes have the problem that their habitat is limited by the size and geographic location of the waters they live in: migrating to deeper waters or to cooler regions is nearly impossible.

New level of detail for improved projections

"Our detailed analyses, which cover all of the fishes' developmental stages, will help us to understand how these species are being affected by climate change, and to what extent the loss of suitable habitats is being driven by the climate-related transformation of ecosystems," says Hans-Otto Pörtner.

Wherever fish migrate or their reproduction rates decline, there will be new interactions between species, and in some cases the ecosystems will experience a drop in productivity. The IPCC published corresponding projections on the future of worldwide fish stocks in its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. According to Pörtner: "Our new detailed assessments will help to improve those projections."



Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research


Related Climate Change Articles:

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.
Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Warped Reality
False information on the internet makes it harder and harder to know what's true, and the consequences have been devastating. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around technology and deception. Guests include law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Andrew Marantz, and computer scientist Joy Buolamwini.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

How to Win Friends and Influence Baboons
Baboon troops. We all know they're hierarchical. There's the big brutish alpha male who rules with a hairy iron fist, and then there's everybody else. Which is what Meg Crofoot thought too, before she used GPS collars to track the movements of a troop of baboons for a whole month. What she and her team learned from this data gave them a whole new understanding of baboon troop dynamics, and, moment to moment, who really has the power.  This episode was reported and produced by Annie McEwen. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.