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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Warmer waters from climate change will leave fish shrinking, gasping for air

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August 21, 2017 University of British Columbia read full ScienceDaily article here

…A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia provides a deeper explanation of why fish are expected to decline in size. “Fish, as cold-blooded animals, cannot regulate their own body temperatures. When their waters get warmer, their metabolism accelerates and they need more oxygen to sustain their body functions….There is a point where the gills cannot supply enough oxygen for a larger body, so the fish just stops growing larger.”…

….as fish like cod increases its weight by 100 per cent, its gills only grow by 80 per cent or less. When understood in the context of climate change, this biological rule reinforces the prediction that fish will shrink and will be even smaller than thought in previous studies.

Warmer waters increase fish’s need for oxygen but climate change will result in less oxygen in the oceans. This means that gills have less oxygen to supply to a body that already grows faster than them. The researchers say this forces fish to stop growing at a smaller size to be able to fulfill their needs with the little oxygen available to them.

Some species may be more affected by this combination of factors. Tuna, which are fast moving and require more energy and oxygen, may shrink even more when temperatures increase. Smaller fish will have an impact on fisheries production as well as the interaction between organisms in the ecosystems.

Daniel Pauly, William W. L. Cheung. Sound physiological knowledge and principles in modeling shrinking of fishes under climate change. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13831

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