Widespread habitat loss and redistribution of marine top predators in a changing ocean
The Northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are among the fastest warming ocean regions, a trend that is expected to continue through this century with far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems. We examine the distribution of 12 highly migratory top predator species using predictive models and project expected habitat changes using downscaled climate models. Our models predict widespread losses of suitable habitat for most species, concurrent with substantial northward displacement of core habitats >500 km. These changes include up to >70% loss of suitable habitat area for some commercially and ecologically important species. We also identify predicted hot spots of multi-species habitat loss focused offshore of the U.S. Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coasts. For several species, the predicted changes are already underway, which are likely to have substantial impacts on the efficacy of static regulatory frameworks used to manage highly migratory species. The ongoing and projected effects of climate change highlight the urgent need to adaptively and proactively manage dynamic marine ecosystems.