Iconic British Corals Predicted To Be Resilient to Climate Change

According to a recent study, climate change may cause an iconic coral species found in UK seas to expand its range.

The pink sea fan is a soft coral that may be found in shallow seas from the western Mediterranean (southern range) to northwest Ireland, as well as the southwest of England and Wales (northern range).

The species is identified as a species of major significance in England and Wales under the NERC Act 2006. It is categorised as "vulnerable" globally. 

As global temperatures increase, the species is expected to move northwards, including along the British coast, according to new study from the University of Exeter. The data might be used to prioritize places where pink sea fan populations should be protected.

“We built models to predict the current and future (2081-2100) habitat of pink sea fans across an area covering the Bay of Biscay, the British Isles, and southern Norway,” stated Dr. Tom Jenkins of the University of Exeter.

“The model predictions revealed current areas of suitable habitat beyond the current northern range limits of the pink sea fan, in areas where colonies have not yet been observed.“

It's unclear why pink sea fans haven't yet established themselves in these places. Inadequate spread of their larvae and fierce competition for space and resources are two possible constraints.

“Our future predictions, using a high-emissions global warming scenario called RCP 8.5, revealed an increase in suitable habitat for pink sea fans to the north of its current range – so the species could spread northwards by 2100.“

"We also found that existing habitat across south-west Britain, the Channel Islands, and north-west France is predicted to remain suitable for this species over the next 60-80 years."

A soft coral species known as dead man's fingers was studied in the study. Future estimates for this species indicated a decrease in appropriate habitat in the southern section of the research region and an increase in the species' range in the northern portion.

Pink sea fans, like many other octocoral species, are essential biologically because they give complexity to reef systems and promote marine biodiversity, especially when they form thick 'forests.'

Because fragmented or sick colonies might indicate deteriorating surroundings, they can also be utilized as a larger indication of ecosystem health.

“This research highlights the complex effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, in which the ranges of some species respond to warming by shifting pole-wards," stated Dr. Jamie Stevens, also of the University of Exeter.

Some species, especially those that prefer warmer climates, may emerge as short-term 'winners' amid a rapidly shifting mosaic of habitats.
“How long these species can continue to expand and benefit in the face of accelerated warming remains to be seen.”

“Predicting habitat suitability and range shifts under projected climate change for two octocorals in the north-east Atlantic,” according to the article published in PeerJ.
Iconic British Corals Predicted To Be Resilient to Climate Change Iconic British Corals Predicted To Be Resilient to Climate Change Reviewed by Lilit on May 31, 2022 Rating: 5
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