MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI:

Regional variability in the sensitivity of Caribbean reef fish assemblages to ocean warming

Ravi R. Maharaj*, Vicky W. Y. Lam, Daniel Pauly, William W. L. Cheung


ABSTRACT: Ocean warming is expected to impact biodiversity and fisheries in the tropics through shifts in species’ distributions, leading to local extinctions and changes in species composition of catches. However, regional-scale patterns may differ from global trends due to in the influence of important environmental factors such as ocean warming, fishing and habitat availability. Here we use the mean temperature of the catch to test the hypothesis that, for the period of 1971–2010, regional variation in species-turnover of exploited reef fish assemblages among nine Caribbean countries can be explained by differences in the rate of warming, species’ thermal preferences, changes in trophic structure due to fishing and potential reef habitat across the region. Sea surface temperature and the mean temperature of the catch displayed rates of increase of 0.14°C decade-1 and 0.19°C decade-1 respectively, on par with the global average and higher when compared to the global average for all tropical fisheries. These rates also varied across the nine Caribbean countries, ranging from 0.04–0.18°C decade-1 for sea surface temperature and 0.10–0.62°C decade-1 for the mean temperature of the catch. The negative interaction between potential reef habitats in each country and sea surface temperature in relation to the mean temperature of the catch suggests possible moderating effects of available habitats on sensitivity of fish communities to warming. In addition, the negative relationship of trophic level with the mean temperature of the catch suggests that fishing increases their vulnerability. Findings from this study help elucidate factors driving variations in sensitivity of exploited fish communities to warming, and implications for the management of living marine resources in the Caribbean region.