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Optimal Habitat and Predicting Potential Changes in Spatial Distribution of Important Pelagic Forage Species in the Northwest Atlantic in Response to Future Climate Change


Illustration: Sea-surface temperature anomaly: in August 2012, the sea-surface temperature in the Northwest Atlantic was 1–2℃ warmer than the long-term (1985-2010) average. Illustration Credit: P. S. Galbraith, DFO

In some regions of the Northwest Atlantic, the sea-surface temperature has increased by 1 to 1.5℃ since the early 1980s and is predicted to warm by as much as 2℃ over the next half century. Due to their relatively short life cycle, zooplankton and pelagic fish populations will likely respond to environmental changes within a year or two, possibly triggering changes higher in the food web since many top predators prey on pelagic fish. This project will evaluate potential climate-driven changes in the distribution and availability of ecologically and commercially important pelagic species.

Specifically, the research will:

  • document the observed habitat of pelagic species based on data from DFO surveys;
  • use a 3-D numerical model of environmental conditions to describe changes in the abundance and distribution of pelagic species during warm (2006, 2012) and cold (2003, 2005) years; and
  • combine species-specific habitat models with predicted environmental conditions—on the Scotian, Newfoundland and Labrador shelves, and in the Bay of Fundy and estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence—to project future changes in species distribution at 5, 10, 20 and 50 years, and to identify geographical and temporal trends.

The species-specific habitat models will contribute to the future development of a climate change "adaptation tool" to inform decision-making in a variety of sectors within Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Program Name

Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP)


Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves

Principal Investigator(s)

Stéphane Plourde
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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