Warming temperatures and smaller body sizes: synchronous changes in growth of North Sea fishes

Alan R. Baudron*, Coby L. Needle, Adriaan D. Rijnsdorp, C. Tara Marshall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

211 Citations (Scopus)
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Decreasing body size has been proposed as a universal response to increasing temperatures. The physiology behind the response is well established for ectotherms inhabiting aquatic environments: as higher temperatures decrease the aerobic capacity, individuals with smaller body sizes have a reduced risk of oxygen deprivation. However, empirical evidence of this response at the scale of communities and ecosystems is lacking for marine fish species. Here, we show that over a 40-year period six of eight commercial fish species in the North Sea examined underwent concomitant reductions in asymptotic body size with the synchronous component of the total variability coinciding with a 1-2 degrees C increase in water temperature. Smaller body sizes decreased the yield-per-recruit of these stocks by an average of 23%. Although it is not possible to ascribe these phenotypic changes unequivocally to temperature, four aspects support this interpretation: (i) the synchronous trend was detected across species varying in their life history and life style; (ii) the decrease coincided with the period of increasing temperature; (iii) the direction of the phenotypic change is consistent with physiological knowledge; and (iv) no cross-species synchrony was detected in other species-specific factors potentially impacting growth. Our findings support a recent model-derived prediction that fish size will shrink in response to climate-induced changes in temperature and oxygen. The smaller body sizes being projected for the future are already detectable in the North Sea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1023-1031
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number4
Early online date28 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Funded by
Marine Scotland Science


  • climate change
  • dynamic Factor Analysis
  • ectotherms
  • fish growth
  • fisheries
  • temperature size rule
  • von Bertalanffy
  • exploited marine fish
  • climate-change
  • ecosystems
  • shrinking
  • reversal
  • impacts
  • age


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