Temperature tracking by North Sea benthic invertebrates in response to climate change

Jan G. Hiddink, Michael T. Burrows, Jorge Garcia Molinos

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99 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and distributions shifts are one of the most significant threats to global warming, but the extent to which these shifts keep pace with a changing climate is yet uncertain. Understanding the factors governing range shifts is crucial for conservation management to anticipate patterns of biodiversity distribution under future anthropogenic climate change. Soft-sediment invertebrates are a key faunal group because of their role in marine biogeochemistry and as a food source for commercial fish species. However, little information exists on their response to climate change. Here, we evaluate changes in the distribution of 65 North Sea benthic invertebrate species between 1986 and 2000 by examining their geographic, bathymetric and thermal niche shifts and test whether species are tracking their thermal niche as defined by minimum, mean or maximum sea bottom (SBT) and surface (SST) temperatures. Temperatures increased in the whole North Sea with many benthic invertebrates showing north-westerly range shifts (leading/trailing edges as well as distribution centroids) and deepening. Nevertheless, distribution shifts for most species (3.8–7.3 km yr−1 interquantile range) lagged behind shifts in both SBT and SST (mean 8.1 km yr−1), resulting in many species experiencing increasing temperatures. The velocity of climate change (VoCC) of mean SST accurately predicted both the direction and magnitude of distribution centroid shifts, while maximum SST did the same for contraction of the trailing edge. The VoCC of SBT was not a good predictor of range shifts. No good predictor of expansions of the leading edge was found. Our results show that invertebrates need to shift at different rates and directions to track the climate velocities of different temperature measures, and are therefore lagging behind most temperature measures. If these species cannot withstand a change in thermal habitat, this could ultimately lead to a drop in benthic biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-129
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


  • benthic invertebrate
  • benthos
  • distribution shifts
  • North Sea
  • sea bottom temperature
  • sea surface temperature
  • velocity of climate change


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