Impact of climate change on marine ecosystems

Climate change affects marine ecosystems. Warming of seawater, acidification, changing oxygen and salinity levels and rising sea levels can for example disrupt the habitat of fish and shellfish found in marine and coastal areas. Wageningen Marine Research monitors the presence of fish and shellfish species at various maturity stages in different habitats, and investigates the impact of climate change on marine food chains, nursery grounds and phenology.

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Continuous measuring

As part of the statutory research tasks of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), Wageningen Marine Research monitors fish and shrimp species, benthic organisms, salt marshes, mussel beds, birds, marine mammals, coral reefs and marine food chains in the Wadden Sea, Dutch Southwestern Delta, North Sea, national freshwater waterbodies (IJsselmeer and Markermeer, large rivers) as well as the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the Caribbean part of the Netherlands. These long-term time series are used to assess the development of species and communities in certain areas. Using long-term time series, changes at the system level become apparent.

Insight into systemic changes

We now know that climate change affects marine life. For example, small plaice make less use of the coastal zone as a nursery area and the timing of spawning has been brought forward (phenology). It is important for protection and management to know why such changes occur and what the effects are on populations, ecosystems and consumers.

With more in-depth studies into behaviour, use of habitat, age structure, biodiversity and individual energetics, we try to gain insight into the causes and possible consequences of changes visible in long-term time series. In this way we can better understand the impact of human influence and changes in the system (climate change). We use a suite of modelling techniques to make predictions about the future development of nature and food sources in the sea.

The basis for effective management

Statutory monitoring and diverse ecosystem research thus form the basis for effective management of marine ecosystems in a changing world. Because it concerns natural systems, natural food sources and ecosystem services, it is very important to identify the effects of change in time. Only then can we ensure a healthy sea with opportunities for people as well as animals.

Our offer

  • Analyses of our long-term data sets and monitoring research of species in the North Sea, Wadden Sea and Caribbean waters
  • Research on the effects of climate change on phenology of fish, crustaceans and molluscs
  • Research on shifts in spawning and nursery areas of fish
  • Modelling the impact of climate change on individual marine species (growth, energetics etc.)
  • Research into heat stress on e.g. cockles
  • Research into the impact of the loss of sea ice in the Arctic on the local ecosystem
  • Research into the resilience of nature in the Caribbean parts of the Netherlands (pressure on sea turtles, erosion and deterioration of coral) and how this can be improved to absorb the effects of climate change
  • Application of the ‘trait-based approach' to obtain a broader view on biodiversity and to provide additional tools for (ecosystem-based) nature policy.


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