Detecting range shifts among Australian fishes in response to climate change

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Journal Article
Marine and Freshwater Research, 2011, 62 (9), pp. 1027 - 1042
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One of the most obvious and expected impacts of climate change is a shift in the distributional range of organisms, which could have considerable ecological and economic consequences. Australian waters are hotspots for climate-induced environmental changes; here, we review these potential changes and their apparent and potential implications for freshwater, estuarine and marine fish. Our meta-analysis detected <300 papers globally on 'fish' and 'range shifts', with similar to 7% being from Australia. Of the Australian papers, only one study exhibited definitive evidence of climate-induced range shifts, with most studies focussing instead on future predictions. There was little consensus in the literature regarding the definition of 'range', largely because of populations having distributions that fluctuate regularly. For example, many marine populations have broad dispersal of offspring (causing vagrancy). Similarly, in freshwater and estuarine systems, regular environmental changes (e. g. seasonal, ENSO cycles - not related to climate change) cause expansion and contraction of populations, which confounds efforts to detect range 'shifts'. We found that increases in water temperature, reduced freshwater flows and changes in ocean currents are likely to be the key drivers of climate-induced range shifts in Australian fishes. Although large-scale frequent and rigorous direct surveys of fishes across their entire distributional ranges, especially at range edges, will be essential to detect range shifts of fishes in response to climate change, we suggest careful co-opting of fisheries, museum and other regional databases as a potential, but imperfect alternative.
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