Mass migration of animal and plant species, forced by rising temperatures, could leave some marine species virtually homeless.

An international team, led by Mike Burrows from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, compared changing temperatures for both land and sea and from place to place over a 50-year period from 1960-2009.

Cooler environment

“When temperatures rise, plants and animals that need a cooler environment move to new regions.

The land is warming about three times faster than the ocean so you might simply expect species to move three times faster on land, but that's not the case,” Burrows explained.

“If the land temperature becomes too hot for some species, they can move to higher ground where temperatures are generally cooler. That's not an option for many marine species which live at, or near, the surface of the ocean,” he was quoted as saying in a Scottish Association statement.

“When temperatures rise, species such as fish will be able to move into deeper water to find the cooler environments they prefer — but other species, such as marine plants or slow-moving corals, will have to move further to find suitable habitats and could become trapped....”

Co-author John Bruno, from the University of North Carolina, agreed that many marine creatures would have a hard time keeping up with climate change.

The effects

“Being stuck in a warming environment can cause reductions in the growth, reproduction and survival of ecologically and economically important ocean life such as fish, corals and sea birds,” he said.