Understanding impacts of climate change on fish distribution

Using the Australian National Fish Collection, we are creating a snapshot of species distribution - prior to or during exploitation or impact - to better understand the impacts of climate change.

The Challenge

Understanding the impacts of climate change

A better understanding of the impacts of climate change and increasing coastal water temperatures on our marine life will help us to protect them into the future.

Snapper species with expanded range in south-eastern Tasmania

Our Response

Comparing the past to now

We have used material from the Australian National Fish Collection (ANFC) in conjunction with field data, historical records and data collected by members of the public to re-create historic ranges of a number of fishes in southeastern Australia.

A further study examined records collected since the late 1960s by recreational spearfishers from Victoria and New South Wales.

The Results

Changes in geographical distributions

The first study found the geographic ranges of some species have been impacted (restricted) as a result of past fishing.

Where fishing had ceased, some species appear to have expanded back into their historic geographic ranges.

Other species have also invaded southwards into new ranges, likely as a result of warming sea temperatures that now allow survival over winter.

The second study demonstrated that warming coastal waters had likely caused distribution changes to a number of fish species on the eastern Australian coast. 

There was also evidence of a shift in community composition in New South Wales waters during this period, with an increasing prevalence of tropical species.

This work has been invaluable for reconstructing the recent past and understanding the impacts of climate change on our marine fauna.

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