Rising ocean temperatures are causing more and more coral reefs that move away from the equator for more temperate waters. Over the last 40 years, the number of young corals on tropical reefs has decreased by 85% while doubling in colder regions, according to a recent study published in the journal Progress series in marine ecology.
The results are the latest evidence of how climate change is forcing marine species to abandon their historical ranges and migrate to colder waters.
"The clarity of this trend is staggering," said Nichole Price, senior researcher at the Bigelow Laboratory for Marine Science in Maine and senior author of the article. "We do not yet know if new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems."
Price and his colleagues, an international team of collaborators from 17 institutions and 6 countries, examined trends in colonization of corals up to 35 degrees north and south of the equator. They found that the reefs were moving the polar pole evenly on both sides of the equator, and said the new reef locations could help provide a refuge for other marine species moving in response to climate change. But scientists also said that because of the cost of collecting and analyzing species data on the reefs, they did not know which species of coral migrated and which ones were not. They also do not know how long these new reefs will be in their new locations in the long term.
"The changes we see in coral reef ecosystems are staggering," said Price. "We have to work hard to document how these systems work and know what we can do to save them before it's too late."
For more information on the evolution of marine species in response to climate change, click here.