Long-term ecological research of UK coast species quantifies effects of climate change on species range distributions and informs national monitoring.

Climate change is altering biodiversity and the biogeographic distributions of coastal marine species across the world’s oceans but long-term records detailing the responses of organisms are lacking. The MBA MarClim® project has the most spatio-temporally extensive time-series for rocky intertidal organisms globally, with data stretching back to the 1950s for native species of macroalgae and invertebrates that have a range of thermal evolutionary origins. Invasive Non Native Species that have invaded, or are at risk of invasion of natural rocky intertidal ecosystems are also recorded by MarClim®.  Annual surveys are carried out at over 100 sites around the UK coastline, including locations beyond the current range-edges of species, to ensure detection of any future shifts in species biogeographic distributions.

The MBA’s Dr Nova Mieszkowska and Prof Stephen Hawkins have demonstrated some of the fastest shifts in the leading range edge in any natural system for intertidal species of lusitanian evolutionary origin reaching their high latitude edge in the UK. This includes topshells, Phorcus lineatus and Gibbula umbilicalis, barnacles Chthamalus montagui and Perforatus perforatus, the limpet Patella depressa, and the macroalga Bifurcaria bifurcata, which are expanding to higher latitudes around the UK coastline. In contrast, species of boreal evolutionary origin such as the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides and kelp Alaria esculenta, that inhabit cooler waters and have the lower latitude range edges of the biogeographic distributions located in or close to UK coasts, are undergoing retractions of these trailing range edges in response to warming of the marine climate.

MarClim® provides advice to policy advisors and decision makers on the implications that climatically driven change may have for the way we currently conserve, manage and protect marine biodiversity, and how these issues may affect society and commercial interests. Natural England and Natural Resources Wales use the MarClim® time-series and project findings to manage human activities, establish conservation sites, monitor, assess and report on the status of habitats, species and ecosystems, as well as the structuring of underlying legislation and policies.  The MarClim® data is used for the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership Annual Report Card to demonstrate real-time changes in species distributions in response to climate change within UK coastal benthic habitats.

Invasive Non Native Species predominantly arrive in man-made structures, including ports, marinas, harbours and aquaculture facilities. MarClim® provides data on the locations of introductions from such structures into natural ecosystems, documents the spread of INNS around the coastline, and provides temporal changes within native communities that are driven by invasion of INNS. Data are reported to the Defra GB Non Native Species Portal.

MarClim has demonstrated the fundamental value of long-term data sets in understanding changes in marine ecosystems and the critical importance of a long-term commitment to continued data collection for analysing climate induced changes in species biogeography. The broad geographic coverage enabled by the MarClim consortium, in bringing together relevant agencies and research institutes in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, has enabled north-south and east-west trends to be validated in a way that a narrower national territorial approach could not have achieved.

The MarClim project builds and strengthens links between the policy, science, conservation and climate change communities. This enables effective networking and strong linkages to be made during the MarClim work across all areas, and enhances the value and ownership of the end products and conclusions.

Funding provided by Natural England, Natural Resources Wales.

Links: 

Mieszkowska lab website www.mba.ac.uk/fellows/nova

https://www.mba.ac.uk/marclim/pdf/Mieszkowska_et_al_Hydrobiologia_2006.pdf

http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/372/2025/20130339.figures...