Climate change impacts on marine ecosystems through the lens of the size spectrum

Ryan F. Heneghan*, Ian A. atton, Eric D. Galbraith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change is a complex global issue that is driving countless shifts in the structure and function of marine ecosystems. To better understand these shifts, many processes need to be considered, yet they are often approached from incompatible perspectives. This article reviews one relatively simple, integrated perspective: The abundance-size spectrum. We introduce the topic with a brief review of some of the ways climate change is expected to impact the marine ecosystem according to complex numerical models while acknowledging the limits to understanding posed by complex models. We then review how the size spectrum offers a simple conceptual alternative, given its regular power law size-frequency distribution when viewed on sufficiently broad scales. We further explore how anticipated physical aspects of climate change might manifest themselves through changes in the elevation, slope and regularity of the size spectrum, exposing mechanistic questions about integrated ecosystem structure, as well as how organism physiology and ecological interactions respond to multiple climatic stressors. Despite its application by ecosystem modellers and fisheries scientists, the size spectrum perspective is not widely used as a tool for monitoring ecosystem adaptation to climate change, providing a major opportunity for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-243
Number of pages11
JournalEmerging topics in life sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


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