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Warming winter seas disrupting fish stocks, social media-inspired model shows

Social media-inspired mathematical modeling has shown that warming water in the winter may be impacting the world's fisheries. Photo by University of Queensland
Social media-inspired mathematical modeling has shown that warming water in the winter may be impacting the world's fisheries. Photo by University of Queensland

July 13 (UPI) -- Researchers used a mathematical model inspired by social media to show that winter warming could disrupt fish, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The model showed the effects of warming winter waters on fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea, write Nicholas Clark of The University of Queensland School of Veterinary Science, Ceridwen Fraser of the University of Otago and James Kerry of James Cook University in the new study.

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"Winter warming is occurring at a faster rate than summer warming for ecosystems around the world, but most studies focus on the summer," researchers wrote in the study.

"Here, we show that winter warming could affect coastal fish community compositions in the Mediterranean Sea using a model that captures how biotic associations change with sea surface temperature to influence species' distributions for 215 fish species," the researchers wrote

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The three scientists found that the impact of warming water in the winter on species was on average four times greater than summer warming as it occurs more rapidly.

Clark said the social media inspired model helped them paint a more accurate picture than older climate change models.

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"Usually, when modeling ecosystems to understand how nature is changing, we build models that only focus on the effects of the environment," Clark said. "But it's just not accurate enough."

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"Newer models -- commonly used in social media to document people's social interactions -- offer an exciting way to address this gap in scientific knowledge," he said. "These innovative network models give us a more accurate picture of reality by incorporating biology, allowing us to ask how one species responds to both environmental change and to the presence of other species, including humans."

Though winter warming has often been overlooked, Fraser said "winters are getting warmer too."

"Even though winter warming might not reach the extreme high temperatures of summer heatwaves, this research shows that warmer winters could also lead to ecosystem disruption, in some cases more than hotter summer warming will," he continued. "Our results suggest that winter warming will cause fish species to hang out together in different ways, and some species will disappear from some areas entirely."

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Sixty percent of coastal Mediterranean grid cells are expected to lose fish by 2040, projections show.

"For the sake of marine ecosystems and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, we need to gain a better understanding of how ocean warming will influence both species and economies," Clark said.

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