Research spotlight

Unraveling the complex manifestations of climate change on ocean ecosystems and costal communities


Two IAI-funded projects –"VOCES - Variability of Ocean Ecosystems around South America" and "Small-scale Fisheries and Marine Ecosystem Services: Adaptation and Transformation to Secure Human Wellbeing"– are being implemented in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Uruguay and the United States and are generating long term studies that examine the processes inherent in the science to policy nexus.

 Right: Fishermen picking yellow clams on a sandy beach in Uruguay 

The interdisciplinary teams of climatologists, oceanographers, marine biologists and fisheries experts that became involved have been unraveling the complex manifestations of climate change on ocean ecosystems and the coastal communities. The studies present strong evidence suggesting that changes in wind patterns have caused an intensification and southward shift of the Brazil Current in the past decades, creating one of the most outstanding marine warming hotspots worldwide.

Left: Figure of internal shell growth pattern of the yellow clam Mesodesma mactroides

Climate change has also led to intense warming in the South Brazil Bight and in the Río de la Plata. These changes presumably explain the observed poleward shift of commercially important pelagic species and the long-term shift from cold-water to warm-water species in industrial fisheries of Uruguay. Likewise, the research documents the impact of climate change on small-scale fisheries: multidisciplinary long-term research shows that mass mortalities decimated harvested clam populations along coastal ecosystems, leading to prolonged shellfishery closures, with significant impact on economic revenues and the livelihood of local communities

These long-term investigations also show that changes in climatic and oceanographic conditions modulate the large-scale connectivity between sandy beach faunal populations, which in turn could lead to local extirpations of threatened species. We conclude that flexible policies and management actions are needed to tackle the challenge of promoting a climate-resilient and adaptable small-scale fisheries
Right: Map of the South Atlantic depicting the long-term trend of sea surface temperature


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