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Climate change causing significant shift in composition of coastal fish communities
Date:6/26/2008

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. June 27, 2008 A detailed analysis of data from nearly 50 years of weekly fish-trawl surveys in Narragansett Bay and adjacent Rhode Island Sound has revealed a long-term shift in species composition, which scientists attribute primarily to the effects of global warming.

According to Jeremy Collie, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography, the fish community has shifted progressively from vertebrate species (fish) to invertebrates (lobsters, crabs and squid) and from benthic or demersal species those that feed on the bottom to pelagic species that feed higher in the water column. In addition, smaller, warm-water species have increased while larger, cool-water species have declined.

"This is a pretty dramatic change, and it's a pattern that is being seen in other ecosystems, including offshore on Georges Bank and other continental shelf ecosystems, but we're in the relatively unique position of being able to document it. These patterns are likely being seen in estuaries around the world, but nowhere else has similar data," said Collie.

Results of the research by Collie and URI colleagues Anthony Wood and Perry Jeffries will be published in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

The weekly trawl survey by URI scientists began in 1959 and continues to the present, making it one of the longest data sets of fish species composition available. The survey has recorded 130 species, though the analysis focused only on the top 25 species, which accounted for 96 percent of the total number of animals collected.

Collie said that while most of the changes occurred slowly, an abrupt change appeared to take place in 1980 and 1981 when benthic species like winter flounder and silver hake declined and pelagic species including butterfish and bluefish increased.

"We think there has been a shift in
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Contact: Todd McLeish
tmcleish@uri.edu
401-874-7892
University of Rhode Island
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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