Aside from the fact that fish, corals, and trees can be aged in similar ways (by counting annual growth rings), new research shows that all three also respond to climate change in similar ways.
Scientists from The University of Western Australia (UWA), the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), and other partners studied two species of fish, one coral species, and one tree species in northwest Australia and found that they exhibit similar growth patterns in response to climate change.
During El Niño years, growth of all four species slowed, while growth rates increased during La Niña years.
“These four different species span different trophic levels and environments, yet respond similarly to large-scale climate phenomenon,” lead author Joyce Ong, a PhD student from UWA’s School of Animal Biology and Oceans Institute, explained in a news release. This is the first evidence that marine and terrestrial species in the southern hemisphere respond similarly to changes.
Co-author and UWA researcher Dr. Pauline Grierson explained that studies like these help increase confidence in climate models.
Many models suggest that rainfall and ocean temperatures in northwest Australia are predicted to increased (similar to strong La Niña events). While the study suggests this will cause an increase in the growth of coral, fish, and trees, it’s not all good news.
Strong La Niña events with record high sea surface temperatures can lead to widespread fish kills and coral bleaching, according to Ms. Ong.
“These extreme La Niña events as well as strong El Niño conditions are predicted to occur more frequently in the future, indicating that events with extreme temperature changes that lead to damage or death and conditions favouring slower growth of marine and terrestrial organisms will be more common,” she said. “The magnitude and frequency of El Niño and La Niña events are likely to have major negative consequences on both marine and terrestrial species and will need to be carefully monitored.”
To learn more:
- Read the UWA news release: Fish, corals and trees tell common story about climate change
- Read the study abstract: Evidence for climate-driven synchrony of marine and terrestrial ecosystems in northwest Australia
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