Principal investigator Malin Pinsky (Rutgers University), and research fellows Becca Selden (Wellesley College) and Zoë Kitchel (Rutgers University) are co-authors on a new publication in Annual Reviews, “Climate-Driven Shifts in Marine Species Ranges: Scaling from Organisms to Communities“.

The authors’ review is centered around the current understanding of marine species’ rapidly shifting range distributions, while also discussing and comparing them to terrestrial species range shifts. They are concerned with geographic shifts attributed to climate change and write that, in the ocean, species range shifts are occurring at rates of 72 km/decade on average, or about “an order of magnitude faster than observed rates on land.” These range shifts are leading to ecological and evolutionary consequences, changing species interactions (e.g. competition, facilitation, predation, etc.) that can influence their evolution and surrounding ecosystem, create novel ecosystems at the leading and trailing edges of their ranges, as well as impact overall ecosystem functioning. Summarized highlights from the authors include the following:

  • Changing marine environments are causing many marine species to colonize new territory and become locally extinct in historical locations.
  • While marine species are more sensitive to a changing climate than terrestrial ones, they have a greater ability to colonize new areas and do so at a faster rate than land species.
  • Shifting marine distributions results in restructured communities and food webs, but food web properties appear to be more stable than species identities.
  • At the leading and trailing edges of species’ ranges, there are distinct ecological and evolutionary processes occurring that shape transient dynamics and the rate at which species vary at each edge.
  • Future species geographic shifts are expected to be dramatic, with many species’ ranges projected to change at rates of 50-100 km/decade.

The authors also call attention to following unknowns and important future issues:

  • Understanding the importance of demographic mechanisms and factors that cause, or contribute, to these range shifts is a challenge.
  • A need for a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive distribution shifts, including direct environmental effects (e.g. oxygen and temperature) on organismal functioning and indirect effects that are mediated through species interactions.
  • Greater efforts are needed to link species traits to colonization and local extinctions, and to look at how currently unstudied species will respond to range shifts.
  • That using species traits may be a better way to project future interactions in new ecosystems created by range shifts.
  • Using genomic and experimental approaches can help to better understand the role evolution plays in colonization and local extinction.
  • The ocean is warming at an accelerated rate, but much more still needs to be known about what climate change will mean for global marine species extinction rates.
  • It’s importance to use new programs and technologies to continue existing biogeographic monitoring programs while also expanding their use into new areas, such as the tropics, to better inform conservation and management decisions.

The above description and highlights are summarized from the reference below.


Pinsky, M. L., Selden, R. L., & Kitchel, Z. J. (2019). Climate-Driven Shifts in Marine Species Ranges: Scaling from Organisms to Communities. Annual review of marine science, 12.

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