University of Leeds academic develops tool to help protect fish populations from effects of climate change

A University of Leeds academic has worked with an international team to develop a new metric that could help policymakers protect ecosystem functioning from the impacts of climate change.

Research by Dr Josie South from the Faculty of Biological Sciences has developed a tool to assess what happens to numbers of predator and prey species of fish when their environment is affected by climate change factors such as temperature increases and pH changes.  

The metric can be applied across multiple species in different levels of the food chain, and environmental scenarios, to produce a rapid risk assessment that could help policymakers take pre-emptive action to mitigate commercial and ecological damage.  

It predicts future predator/prey interaction changes in different climate change scenarios and how they could in turn impact commercial and ecologically important species. 

The research found: “Until now, prediction methods have only considered the effect of climate change on the consumers – i.e. whether they will eat more or less and whether they will increase or decrease in abundance - but the resource also responds to temperature (or other stressors). 

“An increase in abundance of resource may offset an increase in consumption rate, or a decrease in resource abundance may enhance the total loss by consumption and threaten commercial species.” 

Dr South’s co-authors were James W.E. Dickey, Ross N. Cuthbert and Jaimie T.A. Dick.  

Funded by the Northern Irish Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the research was primarily completed by Queens University Belfast. 

The project also worked with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, Germany, the GEOMAR Helmholtz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel in Kiel, Germany, the Institute of Biology at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research in Berlin, Germany. 

The research was published in Ecological Indicators in September 2022.