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: New England Aquarium offering penguins 'honeymoon suites'

Related Stories

Ocean 'dead zones' a growing disaster for fish

Apr 09, 2015

Falling ocean oxygen levels due to rising temperatures and influence from human activities such as agrochemical use is an increasingly widespread problem. Considering that the sea floors have taken more than 1,000 years to recover from past eras of low ox ...

Recommended for you

Telling the time of day by color

Apr 17, 2015

Research by scientists at The University of Manchester has revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures time of day and on how the animals' physiology and behavior adjust accordingly. ...

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.