Fish populations are shifting to colder waters at the north and south poles due to global warming, research shows.
The latest study, conducted by academics at the University of Glasgow, found that the majority of the world’s fish population move closer to the poles or deeper waters in order to stay cool.
Rising temperatures affect critical functions of marine life such as their metabolism, growth and reproduction.
Sea creatures often have a very narrow habitable temperature range, making it impossible to handle even small differences in water.
Changes in marine life were up to seven times faster than the reactions of animals on land.
Climate change has had a substantial impact on marine ecosystems over the past century.
Some species of fish have completely disappeared from certain places.
While in some cases certain species of fish may be able to alter certain aspects of their biology in order to adapt to warmer conditions, relocation may be the only way to cope with rapid increases in temperatures.
The latest study looked at data on 115 species of fish in all major ocean regions.
This is the first time that such a comprehensive global analysis has been undertaken.
Carolin Dahms, lead author of the study, said: “We observed a striking trend that species living in areas that are warming faster also show the fastest changes in their geographic distribution.
“It’s possible that the rate of warming in some areas is too fast for fish to adapt, and so relocating may be their best coping strategy.
“At the same time, we find that their ability to do so is also affected by other factors such as fishing, with commercially exploited species moving slower.”
Professor Shaun Killen, lead author of the study, said: “Although relocation to cooler waters may allow these species to persist in the short term, it remains to be seen how food webs and ecosystems will be affected by these changes.
“If the prey of these species doesn’t move equally, or if these species become an invasive disturbance in their new location, there could be serious consequences down the road.”
The article, titled “Effects of temperature change on marine fish range shifts: a meta-analysis of ecological and methodological predictors” is published in Global Change Biology.