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Results from the Gulf of Mexico Climate Vulnerability Analysis for Fishes and Invertebrates

November 06, 2023

We conducted a climate vulnerability assessment on 75 species of fish and invertebrates in the Gulf of Mexico. We present a brief overview of the methods, the results, and a discussion of those results.

As part of the NOAA-Fisheries Climate Science Strategy, fisheries climate vulnerability analyses are being conducted for all NOAA-Fisheries regions to assess the potential vulnerability or resilience of fishes and invertebrates to projected climate change. This document provides a summary of the climate vulnerability analysis conducted for the Gulf of Mexico. The domain for the analysis is the Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem. A total of 75 species of fishes and invertebrates, selected from those that are actively exploited and managed, play a significant role in the ecosystem, and/or have protected status, were included in the analysis. Environmental factors considered were temperature, dissolved oxygen and hypoxia, salinity, integrated total primary productivity, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. Most of these environmental factors were derived from an ensemble of models constructed for the Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project using the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 scenario (i.e., high greenhouse gas emissions). Non-modeled factors were derived using literature and other publicly available data. Various aspects of species’ life histories were used to assess biological sensitivity to climate change. These include habitat specificity, prey specificity, adult mobility, dispersal of early life stages, early-life survival and recruitment requirements, complexity in reproductive strategy, spawning cycle, sensitivity to temperature, sensitivity to ocean acidification, population growth rate, stock size status, and other stressors. The project used a categorical (low, moderate, high, very high) scoring mechanism to assess both environmental and biological factors. Biological factors were scored via expert elicitation from a group of regional fisheries scientists. Environmental factors were scored objectively using climate model output. The key findings of the climate vulnerability assessment are:

  •  All species in the Gulf of Mexico are projected to experience high or very high exposure to climate-driven change in environmental variables.
  • The primary environmental factors of concern include temperature, salinity, ocean acidification, and dissolved oxygen.
  • Biological sensitivities are variable and range from low to very high, with most species (~63%) falling into the low sensitivity category.
  • The dominant biological aspects include population growth rate, other stressors, early life stage survival and settlement, spawning cycle, complexity in reproductive strategy, and spawning stock size/status.
  • Twenty percent of the species, representing groupers, elasmobranchs, snappers, diadromous fishes, invertebrates, and coastal species, had high or very high overall vulnerability to climate change. Twenty-eight percent of all species were moderately vulnerable, and 52% were low-vulnerability species.

In summary, all assessed species in the Gulf of Mexico are projected to face significant exposure to climate-driven environmental changes. However, life-history traits are such that some species are expected to be susceptible and many others resilient to these changes.

Quinlan, John A. et al. 2023. Results from the Gulf of Mexico Climate Vulnerability Analysis for Fishes and Invertebrates. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-767, 342 p. https://doi.org/10.25923/5svf-se47

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on 11/06/2023