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Loss of suitable ocean habitat and phenological shifts among grouper and snapper spawning aggregations in the Greater Caribbean under climate change

Esra N. Gokturk, Brian S. Bartlett, Brad Erisman, William Heyman, Rebecca G. Asch*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Phenological shifts have been observed among marine species due to climate change. Modeling changes in fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) under climate change can be useful for adaptive management, because it can allow managers to adjust conservation strategies in the context of specific life history and phenological responses. We modeled effects of climate change on the distribution and phenology of Caribbean FSAs, examining four snapper and four grouper species. An ecological niche model was used to link FSAs with environmental conditions from remote sensing and project FSA distribution and seasonality under RCP8.5. We found significant differences between groupers and snappers in response to warming. While there was variation among species, groupers experienced slight delays in spawning season, a greater loss of suitable ocean habitat (average loss: 72.75%), and poleward shifts in FSA distribution. Snappers had larger shifts towards earlier phenology, with a smaller loss of suitable ocean habitat (average loss: 24.25%), excluding gray snapper which gained habitat. Snappers exhibited interspecific variability in latitudinal distribution shifts. Snapper FSAs appeared more resilient to climate change and occupy wider and warmer spawning temperature ranges, while groupers prefer cooler spawning seasons. Consequently, groupers may lose more suitable ocean spawning habitat sooner due to climate change. When comparing species, there were trade-offs among climate change responses in terms of distribution shifts, phenology changes, and declines in habitat suitability. Understanding such trade-offs can help managers prioritize MPA locations and determine the optimal timing of seasonal fishing restrictions to protect FSAs vulnerable to fishing pressure in a changing climate.