Scientists from the University of Exeter have found that a soft coral found in British waters (the pink sea fan) may be resilient to climate change and may even expand its range due to warming sea temperatures.
Although the species is classed as “vulnerable” worldwide, it can be found from the western Mediterranean to the northwest of Ireland and southwest of Britain. However, the modeling found that in response to climate change, the corals may be spreading further north around the coast of Britain.
According to Dr. Tom Jenkins from the University of Exeter:
“We built models to predict the current and future (2081-2100) habitat of pink sea fans across an area covering the Bay of Biscay, the British Isles and southern Norway. The model predictions revealed current areas of suitable habitat beyond the current northern range limits of the pink sea fan, in areas where colonies have not yet been observed. It’s not clear why pink sea fans have not yet colonised these areas. Possible barriers include insufficient dispersal of their larvae and high competition between species for space and resources. Our future predictions, using a high-emissions global warming scenario called RCP 8.5, revealed an increase in suitable habitat for pink sea fans to the north of its current range – so the species could spread northwards by 2100. We also found that existing habitat across south-west Britain, the Channel Islands and northwest France is predicted to remain suitable for this species over the next 60-80 years.”
While Dr. Jamie Stevens from the University of Exeter added:
“This research highlights the complex effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, in which the ranges of some species respond to warming by shifting pole-wards. In a rapidly changing mosaic of habitats, some species – typically those favouring warmer conditions – may come out as short-term ‘winners.’ How long these species can continue to expand and benefit in the face of accelerated warming remains to be seen.”
You can find the original study here.