In a recent paper published in the journal Wilderness and Environment Medicine, researchers revealed that rising ocean temperatures are disrupting the habitats of marine life and encouraging venomous creatures like lionfish, the coral eating crown-of-thorns starfish and some jellyfish species to expand their habitats.
The paper pulled from multiple previous studies and medical literature that focused on climate change, toxicology, and projections specific to venomous marine animals to look at migration and habitat movements related to the increase in water temperatures.
In all, the study predicts an increase in population numbers, particularly in a species like the crown-of-thorns starfish which is currently devastating reefs around the world. As well, the research predicts that the current habitat range will also increase as waters warm.
As the concern of the potential damage the lion fish and crown-of-thorns increases dramatically, the researchers also pointed out that some species will not be affected in the same way.
“The big pattern is that there isn’t necessarily a pattern,” co-author and PhD student Isabelle Neylan at the University of California, Davis, told National Geographic. Most animals, she added, won’t necessarily increase in number but their ranges will be pushed northwards or southwards as water in their current habitats closer to the equator gets too hot risking the possibility of an animal becoming extinct due to not being able to adapt.
“If temperatures continue to rise to record levels over the next decades, it is predicted that the populations of these once plentiful and critically important animals [toxic frogs] to the aquatic ecosystem will decline and their geographic distributions will shrink,” the study authors explain.
The results of the analysis suggest that jellyfish are likely to increase in range and numbers greater than any other species due to warmer temperatures and higher acidity levels. The non-native lionfish, too, could see its range extend from Florida to the Carolinas and Georgia.
“These species have human interest because they’re poisonous but they reflect the broader patterns that we’re seeing – range shifts, abundance changes, either declines or increases – and that is upsetting the balance of what we would normally see in the ecosystem,” explained Neyland.