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Publication Date
12 July 2023

Human‐induced salinity changes impact marine organisms and ecosystems

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Climate change is fundamentally altering marine and coastal ecosystems on a global scale. While the effects of ocean warming and acidification on ecology and ecosystem functions and services are being comprehensively researched, less attention is directed toward understanding the impacts of human-driven ocean salinity changes. The global water cycle operates through water fluxes expressed as precipitation, evaporation, and freshwater runoff from land. Changes to these in turn modulate ocean salinity and shape the marine and coastal environment by affecting ocean currents, stratification, oxygen saturation, and sea level rise. Besides the direct impact on ocean physical processes, salinity changes impact ocean biological functions with the ecophysiological consequences are being poorly understood. This is surprising as salinity changes may impact diversity, ecosystem and habitat structure loss, and community shifts including trophic cascades. Climate model future projections (of end of the century salinity changes) indicate magnitudes that lead to modification of open ocean plankton community structure and habitat suitability of coral reef communities. Such salinity changes are also capable of affecting the diversity and metabolic capacity of coastal microorganisms and impairing the photosynthetic capacity of (coastal and open ocean) phytoplankton, macroalgae, and seagrass, with downstream ramifications on global biogeochemical cycling. The scarcity of comprehensive salinity data in dynamic coastal regions warrants additional attention. Such datasets are crucial to quantify salinity-based ecosystem function relationships and project such changes that ultimately link into carbon sequestration and freshwater as well as food availability to human populations around the globe. It is critical to integrate vigorous high-quality salinity data with interacting key environmental parameters (e.g., temperature, nutrients, oxygen) for a comprehensive understanding of anthropogenically induced marine changes and its impact on human health and the global economy. 

Röthig, Till, Stacey M. Trevathan‐Tackett, Christian R. Voolstra, Cliff Ross, Samuel Chaffron, Paul J. Durack, Laura M. Warmuth, and Michael Sweet. 2023. “Human‐Induced Salinity Changes Impact Marine Organisms And Ecosystems”. Global Change Biology 29 (17). Wiley: 4731-4749. doi:10.1111/gcb.16859.
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