Scientists link climate change and gray snapper

Scientists link climate change and gray snapper
Juvenile gray snapper. Credit: Jon Hare, NEFSC/NOAA

(—NOAA scientists continue to develop and improve the approaches used to understand the effect of climate change on marine fisheries along the U.S. east coast. Their latest study projects that one common coastal species found in the southeast U.S., gray snapper, will shift northwards in response to warming coastal waters.

In a study published online December 20 in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the Center (NEFSC) and the University of North Florida developed projections of gray snapper distribution under several . Gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus) is an important fishery along the southeast U.S. coast.

Associated with , mangroves and estuaries, gray snapper is found from Florida through the Gulf of Mexico and along the coast of Brazil. Juvenile gray snapper have been reported as far north as Massachusetts, but adults are rarely found north of Florida, leading researchers to look at estuarine habitats as a key piece of the puzzle.

"Temperature is a major factor shaping the distribution of marine species given its influence on biological processes," said Jon Hare, lead author of the new study and director of the NEFSC's Narragansett Laboratory in R.I. "Many fish species are expected to shift poleward or northward as a result of , but we don't fully understand the mechanics of how temperature interacts with a species life history, especially differences between juvenile and adult stages."

Scientists link climate change and gray snapper
Map showing estuarine locations along the US east coast used in the gray snapper study. Researchers used observed temperature records and made projections for winter estuarine water temperatures at these locations. The sites are color-coded based on latitude, with southern locations in red, and northern locations in blue. Credit: Jon Hare, NEFSC/NOAA

Hare and NOAA colleague Mark Wuenschel, a fishery biologist at the Center's Woods Hole Laboratory, worked with Matt Kimball of the University of North Florida to project the range limits of gray snapper, also known as mangrove snapper, using coupled thermal tolerance-climate change models. Kimball also works at the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve in Florida.

Gray snapper was chosen for this study given previous temperature and physiological studies by all three authors, providing a foundation upon which to build. Hare and colleagues believe their approach applies more broadly to other fishery species that use estuarine areas during their life history. Those include a large number of commercially and recreationally important species such as summer flounder, black sea bass, weakfish and pink shrimp.

Unlike earlier studies on climate change and its impact on species like Atlantic croaker, Hare and colleagues developed a model based on a specific hypothesis that is supported by laboratory experiments and field observations. Their new study is based on laboratory research that determined the lower thermal limit, the temperature at which a fish can no longer survive. This limit is expressed as cumulative degree days below 17°C (about 63°F). The team then equated these limits to estuarine water temperatures. Prior research has shown that estuarine temperatures are closely related to air temperatures, so the team then linked the thermal limits to air temperature. Projections of coastwide air temperature were then extracted from global climate models and used to project changes in the distribution of thermal limits for juvenile gray snapper.

The researchers made climate projections for winter water and temperatures for 12 estuaries from Biscayne Bay in south Florida to northern New Jersey. Data collected in previous studies from the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve nearJacksonville, Florida, along with temperature data from the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserves in New Jersey, provided valuable background information.

The results indicate that gray snapper distribution will spread northward along the coast into the future. The magnitude of this spread is dependent on the magnitude of climate change: more CO2 emissions resulted in greater northward spread.

The uncertainty in the study's projections was also examined by the researchers, who looked at multiple global climate models and the uncertainty in each model's estimates of lower thermal limit. Surprisingly, biological uncertainty was the largest factor, supporting calls for more research to understand and characterize the biological effects of climate change on .

This latest study by Hare, Wuenschel, and Kimball joins a growing number of studies that predict climate change is going to affect marine fish distribution and abundance, creating challenges for scientists, managers, and fishers in the future.

"Further, this works supports the conclusion that along the U.S. east coast, some species will be positively affected by climate change while other species will be negatively affected." Hare said. "There will be winners and losers."

"In the past we have assumed that ecosystems were variable but not changing. Now we understand that they are both variable and changing," said Hare. "That complicates the big picture since each species and each ecosystem is different."

"The challenge facing scientists, managers, and fishers alike is identifying the potential effects of climate change and developing a response that will increase the long-term sustainability of resources," Hare said.

Explore further

Scientists link climate change and Atlantic croaker fishery

More information: PLOS One article: "Projecting range limits with coupled thermal tolerance – climate change models: an example based on gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus along the US east coast." … journal.pone.0052294
Journal information: PLoS ONE

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Citation: Scientists link climate change and gray snapper (2013, January 4) retrieved 24 July 2019 from
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Jan 04, 2013
You've got to love a research project in which the results are edible.

Jan 04, 2013
You've got to love a research project whose results are indeterminable. First of all they're working with the wrong species. They should be looking at sessile species such as corals who have very defined temperature tolerances. When you see a northward establishment of the chosen species you have clear evidence of sustained warmer temperatures. Fish like the mangrove snapper on the other hand can and do find warm spots and over winter further north than their apparent temperature ranges would otherwise allow.

Jan 04, 2013
Shame on for pushing the climate blame exaggeration still. Renounce it now and get ahead of the curve!
*Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets ruled by corporations and trustworthy politicians
*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).
*Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.
*In all of the debates Obama hadn't planned to mention climate change once.

Jan 05, 2013
As an AGW skeptic who chooses to still believe in the existence of Phlogiston, I refuse to read past the headline of this article but will comment on it authoritatively nonetheless.

If these fish are causing the warming I stridently deny their exists any proof of, then this species should be wiped out as soon as possible to limit the damage to the environment that I refuse to believe is possible as it would go against gods plan for mankind.

I will now link to a site that uses the funds provided by such disinterested parties as the Koch brothers and exxonmobil to publish findings these and other like minded entities must find a hindrance to the views they wish to promulgate.

Jan 05, 2013
Gawd some of you people are cruel!
Don't you realize AGW is an important component in the lives of enviro-nazis everywhere??
Don't you realize you could crush an entire belief system??
Don't you realize your insensitivity could damage fragile self-esteems??
Don't you realize that AGW may be only constant in these people's lives??

I mean, it's not as if their whimsical fantasy is costing you money...oh wait...forget I said that.

Jan 05, 2013
Hey dir, I posted this in another article, but it fits equally well here:

Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. What if someone says, "Well, that's not how I choose to think about water."? All we can do is appeal to scientific values. And if he doesn't share those values, the conversation is over. If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn't value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic? -Sam Harris

Read more at:

This explains the resistance of some to the obvious.

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