A framework for identifying the most vulnerable marine species will boost global conservation and policy efforts against anthropogenic climate change.
Researchers from the University of Queensland and global marine experts developed the framework by reviewing the marine biology literature and categorizing a wide range of threats – from climate change to pollution to fishing – facing more than 45,000 species.
Dr Nathalie Butt of UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said the research revealed the most endangered species of all threats.
“Molluscs, corals and echinoderms – tough or spiny creatures such as sea urchins – are really feeling the impacts in our oceans, facing a wide range of threats,” Dr Butt said.
“They are affected by fishing and bycatch, pollution and climate change.
“Flowerpot corals – an incredibly fragile but stunning form of coral found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Persian Sea – are a group of species particularly affected by climate change-related stressors, such as ocean acidification.
“We also discovered that starfish, sea snails and flying fish are increasingly vulnerable to climate change stressors, all of which can be found in oceans around the world.
“Roughy fish are quite vulnerable to the effects of pollution, including organic, inorganic and nutrient pollution, which was quite surprising as they live at different depths, including deep seas, which shows how much the effects pollution spread. .”
Dr Butt said the accelerating pace of environmental change was a motivating factor for the development of the framework.
“The environment is changing so rapidly due to human actions, and we need to use all available information to help us assess which animals are at risk and why, and to help develop the most appropriate ways to protect and care for them. manage — that’s where that framework comes in,” she said.
“This framework is unique because it uses the biological characteristics or traits of marine species to assess their vulnerability to specific stressors or threats with the greatest potential impact, such as pollution, fishing and, of course, climate change.”
Associate researcher Carissa Klein said the information would allow users to make more informed decisions about how to allocate and prioritize their resources to protect the world’s most vulnerable species.
“Ecologists can use the framework to prioritize resources for their protection and determine what management actions would best protect particular species or groups of species and where,” Dr Klein said.
“We have assessed all the species and all the threats that we now know of on the planet.
“What’s exciting is that we’ve built the framework so that we can accommodate new information, whether it’s new species or information about threatening processes.
“This means the work can also be applied to particular locations to protect the ocean, using more detailed information about the species and their threats at that location.”
The project was conducted jointly with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and involved global taxonomic experts from around the world.
The research has been published in Ecosphere (doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.3919).