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International Journal of Ecology
Volume 2014, Article ID 140354, 12 pages
Review Article

Adaptation of Australia’s Marine Ecosystems to Climate Change: Using Science to Inform Conservation Management

1C2O Consulting, Cairns, QLD 4870, Australia
2School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4810, Australia
3Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS 7001, Australia
4Australia’s Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Marine Biodiversity and Resources, Australia

Received 4 November 2013; Accepted 26 December 2013; Published 25 February 2014

Academic Editor: Ulisses Azeiteiro

Copyright © 2014 Johanna E. Johnson and Neil J. Holbrook. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The challenges that climate change poses for marine ecosystems are already manifesting in impacts at the species, population, and community levels in Australia, particularly in Tasmania and tropical northern Australia. Many species and habitats are already under threat as a result of human activities, and the additional pressure from climate change significantly increases the challenge for marine conservation and management. Climate change impacts are expected to magnify as sea surface temperatures, ocean chemistry, ocean circulation, sea level, rainfall, and storm patterns continue to change this century. In particular, keystone species that form the foundation of marine habitats, such as coral reefs, kelp beds, and temperate rocky reefs, are projected to pass thresholds with subsequent implications for communities and ecosystems. This review synthesises recent science in this field: the observed impacts and responses of marine ecosystems to climate change, ecological thresholds of change, and strategies for marine conservation to promote adaptation. Increasing observations of climate-related impacts on Australia’s marine ecosystems—both temperate and tropical—are making adaptive management more important than ever before. Our increased understanding of the impacts and responses of marine ecosystems to climate change provides a focus for “no-regrets” adaptations that can be implemented now and refined as knowledge improves.