How fish species suffer as a result of warmer waters

Jan 04, 2007
Eelpout
The eelpout (Zoarces vivparus). Credit: Alfred Wegener Institute

Ongoing global climate change causes changes in the species composition of marine ecosystems, especially in shallow coastal oceans. This applies also to fish populations. Previous studies demonstrating a link between global warming and declining fish stocks were based entirely on statistical data. However, in order to estimate future changes, it is essential to develop a deeper understanding of the effect of water temperature on the biology of organisms under question.

A new investigation, just published in the scientific journal Science, reveals that a warming induced deficiency in oxygen uptake and supply to tissues is the key factor limiting the stock size of a fish species under heat stress.

Scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven investigated the relationship between seasonal water temperature and population density using eelpout (Zoarces viviparus), a fish species from the Southern North Sea.

The goal of the study was to identify those physiological processes exhibiting the most immediate response to warming in the field. Comparing ecological field data with laboratory investigations of the eelpout's physiology, the authors were able, for the first time, to demonstrate a direct link between temperature dependent oxygen limitation experienced by the eelpouts and warming induced changes in their population density.

During evolution, animals have specialised on environmental conditions and are often very limited in their tolerance to environmental change. In this context, fish species from the North Sea which experience large seasonal temperature fluctuations, are more tolerant to higher temperatures and display wider thermal windows than, for instance, fishes from polar regions living at constant low temperatures. The latter are able to grow and reproduce only within a very limited thermal tolerance window.

Investigations at the Alfred Wegener Institute show the key importance of oxygen uptake and distribution – through respiration and blood circulation – in setting the animals' thermal tolerance range, in that these processes are optimised to only a limited temperature window. With increasing temperature, the organism's oxygen supply is the first to deteriorate, followed by other biochemical stress responses. Finally, oxygen supply fails entirely, leaving the organism to perish. These results represent a significant step forward towards understanding the mechanisms involved in climate-induced alterations in marine ecosystems.

The paper 'Climate change affects marine fishes through the oxygen limitation of thermal tolerance' is published on January 5, 2007 in the scientific journal Science.

Source: Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research

Explore further: Bangladesh development threatens fragile Sundarbans mangroves

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The RV Investigator's role in marine science

21 hours ago

We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our deepest oceans, and only 12% of the ocean floor within Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone has so far been mapped.

Toward better forecasting of fish resources

Nov 13, 2014

Its turbid cold waters are home to the largest fish stocks in the world: the Humboldt Current system, which runs along the Peruvian and Chilean coasts, boasts exceptional biological productivity thanks to ...

First genome of an Antarctic notothenioid fish sequenced

Nov 10, 2014

Northeastern professor H. William Detrich is part of an international research team that has sequenced the first genome of an Antarctic notothenioid fish. The breakthrough, he said, will shed light on the ...

Dead fish in Rio Olympic bay baffle scientists

Nov 08, 2014

Thousands of dead fish have begun mysteriously washing up in the polluted Rio bay that will host sailing events at the 2016 Olympics—and experts are at a loss to explain why.

Recommended for you

Study finds tropical fish moving into temperate waters

1 hour ago

Tropical herbivorous fish are beginning to expand their range into temperate waters – likely as a result of climate change – and a new international study documents the dramatic impact of the intrusion ...

User comments : 0

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.