Disciplinary reporting affects the interpretation of climate change impacts in global oceans

Climate change is affecting marine ecosystems, but different investigative approaches in physical, chemical, and biological disciplines may influence interpretations of climate-driven changes in the ocean. Here, we review the ocean change literature from 2007 to 2012 based on 461 of the most highly cited studies in physical and chemical oceanography and three biological subdisciplines. Using highly cited studies, we focus on research that has shaped recent discourse on climate-driven ocean change. Our review identified significant differences in spatial and temporal scales of investigation among disciplines. Physical/chemical studies had a median duration of 29 years (n = 150) and covered the greatest study areas (median 1.41 × 107 km2, n = 148). Few biological studies were conducted over similar spatial and temporal scales (median 8 years, n = 215; median 302 km2, n = 196), suggesting a more limited ability to separate climate-related responses from natural variability. We linked physical/chemical and biological disciplines by tracking studies examining biological responses to changing ocean conditions. Of the 545 biological responses recorded, a single physical or chemical stressor was usually implicated as the cause (59%), with temperature as the most common primary stressor (44%). The most frequently studied biological responses were changes in physiology (31%) and population abundance (30%). Differences in disciplinary studies, as identified in this review, can ultimately influence how researchers interpret climate-related impacts in marine systems. We identified research gaps and the need for more discourse in (1) the Indian and other Southern Hemisphere ocean basins; (2) research themes such as archaea, bacteria, viruses, mangroves, turtles, and ocean acidification; (3) physical and chemical stressors such as dissolved oxygen, salinity, and upwelling; and (4) adaptive responses of marine organisms to climate-driven ocean change. Our findings reveal that highly cited biological studies are rarely conducted on scales that match those of physical and chemical studies. Rather, we suggest a need for measuring responses at biologically relevant scales.

Hauser D. D. W., Tobin E. D., Feifel K. M., Shah V. & Pietri D. M., in press. Disciplinary reporting affects the interpretation of climate change impacts in global oceans. Global Change Biology. Article.


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