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Vulnerability of exploited deep-sea demersal species to ocean warming, deoxygenation, and acidification

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Vulnerability of marine species to climate change (including ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and associated changes in food supply) depends on species’ ecological and biological characteristics. Most existing assessments focus on coastal species but systematic analysis of climate vulnerability for the deep sea is lacking. Here, we combine a fuzzy logic expert system with species biogeographical data to assess the risks of climate impacts to the population viability of 32 species of exploited demersal deep-sea species across the global ocean. Climatic hazards are projected to emerge from historical variabilities in all the recorded habitats of the studied species by the mid-twenty-first century. Species that are both at very high risk of climate impacts and highly vulnerable to fishing include Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), rose fish (Sebastes norvegicus), roughhead grenadier (Macrourus berglax), Baird’s slickhead (Alepocephalus bairdii), cusk (Brosme brosme), and Portuguese dogfish (Centroscymnus coelepis). Most exploited deep-sea fishes are likely to be at higher risk of local, or even global, extinction than previously assessed because of their high vulnerability to both climate change and fishing. Spatially, a high concentration of deep-sea species that are climate vulnerable is predicted in the northern Atlantic Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region. Aligning carbon mitigation with improved fisheries management offers opportunities for overall risk reduction in the coming decades. Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have an obligation to incorporate climate change in their deliberations. In addition, deep-sea areas that are not currently managed by RFMOs should be included in existing or new international governance institutions or arrangements.

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We acknowledge support by the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) and the FAO/UNEP ABNJ Deep-seas and Biodiversity project for the initial workshop and the resulting FAO technical report (638) that led to the present study. WLC acknowledges funding support from National Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (Discovery Grant) and the E. W. R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship. This research was enabled in part by support provided by Compute Canada ( LAL acknowledges support from the US National Science Foundation, grant OCE1829623. CLW acknowledges support from the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology grant MOST 110-2611-M-002-017. We are thankful to Bai Li and Luoliang Xu for their help in developing the list of exploited deep-sea species.


William W. L. Cheung received funding support from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Discovery Grant) and the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship. Lisa A. Levin was funded by National Science Foundation (OCE1829623). Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan, MOST 110-2611-M-002-017 funded Chih-Lin Wei. This study was supported by the FAO/UNEP Project: Sustainable Fisheries Management and Biodiversity Conservation of Deep-sea Living Marine Resources and Ecosystems in the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. 

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All authors contributed to the study conception, design, and writing of the manuscript. Earth system models’ projection data were prepared Chih-Lin Wei. Biological data were collated by William W. L. Cheung. The first draft of the manuscript was written by William W. L. Cheung and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to William W. L. Cheung.

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Cheung, W.W.L., Wei, CL. & Levin, L.A. Vulnerability of exploited deep-sea demersal species to ocean warming, deoxygenation, and acidification. Environ Biol Fish 105, 1301–1315 (2022).

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