Climate change hits southeast Australia fish species

September 28, 2010
The Maugean skate is currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Credit: CSIRO

Scientists are reporting significant changes in the distribution of coastal fish species in south-east Australia which they say are partly due to climate change.

CSIRO's Climate Adaptation and Wealth from Oceans Flagships have identified 43 species, representing about 30 per cent of the inshore fish families occurring in the region, that exhibited shifts thought to be climate-related.

These include warm temperate surf-zone species such as Silver Drummer and Rock Blackfish that are breeding and have become more abundant, and range increases in Snapper and Rock Flathead. There is also a greater abundance of warm water tunas and billfishes and occasional visits from Queensland Groper and Tiger Sharks.

"Furthermore, up to 19 species, or 5 per cent, of Tasmanian coastal fish fauna have undergone serious declines or are possibly extinct locally," says the Curator of the Australian National Fish Collection, Dr Peter Last. "At the same time many warm temperate species have moved in and colonised the cool temperate Tasmanian region.

"Shifts in the distribution of marine animals in response to can be detrimental to some species. The problem is that in southern Tasmania, shallow cold water species have nowhere to escape warmer conditions in the sea," Dr Last says.

Particularly at risk are species such as the Maugean Skate, which is now confined to Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania's southwest.

Dr Last and his colleagues from CSIRO and the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute outline the changes in a research paper published in the journal and Biogeography.

Their data come from a range of sources - published accounts, scientific surveys, spearfishing and angling competitions, commercial catches and underwater photographic records - from the late 1800s to the present. The findings support information provided in Australia's first Marine Climate Change Impacts Report Card, released in 2009, which describes recorded and projected changes to marine species from shifts in climate.

Dr Last says south-eastern Australia is a climate change hotspot with well-documented changes already occurring over the past 70 years, including; southward penetration of the East Australian Current by about 350 kilometres and a temperature rise of almost 2ºC.

"Increased water temperatures in the Tasman Sea are likely to have a cascading effect through local marine ecosystems and, for example, the Bass Strait islands act as stepping stones or distributional pathways south. Already we are seeing biological responses to these changes in the increased presence of sea urchins and fishes from further north."

Explore further: Climate change may threaten species of amphibians and reptiles in southwestern Europe

Related Stories

Fish growth changes enhanced by climate change

April 27, 2007

Changes in growth rates in some coastal and long-lived deep-ocean fish species in the south west Pacific are consistent with shifts in wind systems and water temperatures, according to new Australian research published in ...

Over 100 new sharks and rays classified

September 18, 2008

( -- Australian scientists have completed an ambitious 18-month project to name and describe more than 100 new species of sharks and rays.

Highest-ever winter water temperatures recorded

August 6, 2009

( -- Tasmania’s east coast is recording its highest-ever winter water temperatures of more than 13ºC - up to 1.5ºC above normal - due to a strengthening of an ocean current originating north of Australia.

Marine ecosystems get a climate form guide

November 27, 2009

( -- The first-ever Australian benchmark of climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and options for adaptation is being released in Brisbane today.

Nine new species for disappearing handfish family

May 21, 2010

( -- Nine new species of handfish have been described by CSIRO in research that highlights an urgent need to better understand and protect the diversity of life in Australia's oceans.

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.