Ocean warming alters the distributional range, migratory timing, and spatial protections of the tiger shark

Published on
13. January 2022

Ocean warming alters the distributional range, migratory timing, and spatial protections of an apex predator, the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Neil Hammerschlag, Laura H. McDonnell, Mitchell J. Rider, Garrett M. Street, Elliott L. Hazen, Lisa J. Natanson, Camilla T. McCandless, Melanie R. Boudreau, Austin J. Gallagher, Malin L. Pinsky, Ben Kirtman


Given climate change threats to ecosystems, it is critical to understand the responses of species to warming. This is especially important in the case of apex predators since they exhibit relatively high extinction risk, and changes to their distribution could impact predator–prey interactions that can initiate trophic cascades. Here we used a combined analysis of animal tracking, remotely sensed environmental data, habitat modeling, and capture data to evaluate the effects of climate variability and change on the distributional range and migratory phenology of an ectothermic apex predator, the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). Tiger sharks satellite tracked in the western North Atlantic between 2010 and 2019 revealed significant annual variability in the geographic extent and timing of their migrations to northern latitudes from ocean warming. Specifically, tiger shark migrations have extended farther poleward and arrival times to northern latitudes have occurred earlier in the year during periods with anomalously high sea-surface temperatures. A complementary analysis of nearly 40 years of tiger shark captures in the region revealed decadal-scale changes in the distribution and timing of shark captures in parallel with long-term ocean warming. Specifically, areas of highest catch densities have progressively increased poleward and catches have occurred earlier in the year off the North American shelf. During periods of anomalously high sea-surface temperatures, movements of tracked sharks shifted beyond spatial management zones that had been affording them protection from commercial fishing and bycatch. Taken together, these study results have implications for fisheries management, human–wildlife conflict, and ecosystem functioning.

Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.16045


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