March 31, 2017 by Deborah Smith
Changes in the distribution of land, marine and freshwater species as a result of climate change are affecting human wellbeing around the world, posing new health risks, economics threats and conflicts over resources.
The study, by an international team led by Associate Professor Gretta Pecl of the University of Tasmania, and including UNSW marine ecologist Dr Adriana Vergés, is published today in the journal Science.
In response to climate change, land-based species are moving towards the poles by 17 kilometres per decade, and marine species by 72 kilometres per decade, on average. Some terrestrial creatures, such as ring-tailed possums in Queensland, are also shifting up mountain slopes to escape warming lowlands, while some fish species are being driven deeper as the ocean warms.
"Human survival depends on other life on earth, so the redistribution of the planet's living organisms is a substantial challenge for people worldwide," says Associate Professor Pecl.
"Our global study demonstrates how these changes are affecting ecosystems and human health and culture in the process. While some species favour a warmer climate and are becoming more abundant, many others that humans exploit or interact with face depletion or extinction," she says.
Unlike the many species on the move, people are relatively immobile, largely restricted in where they can live by territorial borders, the researchers point out.
Dr Vergés' research in the Mediterranean Sea and along the eastern coast of Australia, shows how climate change is altering the distribution of tropical fish.