Defining and Observing Stages of Climate-Mediated Range Shifts in Marine Systems

A. Bates, G. Pecl, S. Frusher, A. J. Hobday, T. Wernberg, D. A. Smale, J. M. Sunday, R. K. Colewell, N. Dulvy, G. J. Edgar, M. Feng, E. A. Fulton, N. Hill, N. Holbrook, B. T. Radford, D. Slawinski, P. A. Thompson, R. A. Watson, (2014). Global Environmental Change 26, 27-38.  

Climate change is transforming the structure of biological communities through the geographic extension and contraction of species’ ranges. Range edges are naturally dynamic, and shifts in the location of range edges occur at different rates and are driven by different mechanisms. This leads to challenges when seeking to generalize responses among taxa and across systems. We focus on warming-related range shifts in marine systems to describe extensions and contractions as stages. Range extensions occur as a sequence of (1) arrival, (2) population increase, and (3) persistence. By contrast, range contractions occur progressively as (1) performance decline, (2) population decrease and (3) local extinction. This stage-based framework can be broadly applied to geographic shifts in any species, life-history stage, or population subset. Ideally the probability of transitioning through progressive range shift stages could be estimated from empirical understanding of the various factors influencing range shift rates. Nevertheless, abundance and occupancy data at the spatial resolution required to quantify range shifts are often unavailable and we suggest the pragmatic solution of considering observations of range shifts within a confidence framework incorporating the type, amount and quality of data. We use case studies to illustrate how diverse evidence sources can be used to stage range extensions and contractions and assign confidence that an observed range shift stage has been reached. We then evaluate the utility of trait-based risk (invasion) and vulnerability (extinction) frameworks for application in a range shift context and find inadequacies, indicating an important area for development. We further consider factors that influence rates of extension and contraction of range edges in marine habitats. Finally, we suggest approaches required to increase our capacity to observe and predict geographic range shifts under climate change.