Fish communities diverge in species but converge in traits over three decades of warming

Matthew McLean*, David Mouillot, Martin Lindegren, Sébastien Villéger, Georg Engelhard, Juliette Murgier, Arnaud Auber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Describing the spatial and temporal dynamics of communities is essential for understanding the impacts of global environmental change on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Trait-based approaches can provide better insight than species-based (i.e., taxonomic) approaches into community assembly and ecosystem functioning, but comparing species and trait dynamics may reveal important patterns for understanding community responses to environmental change. Here, we used a 33-year database of fish monitoring to compare the spatio-temporal dynamics of taxonomic and trait structure in North Sea fish communities. We found that the majority of variation in both taxonomic and trait structure was explained by a pronounced spatial gradient, with distinct communities in the southern and northern North Sea related to depth, sea surface temperature, salinity and bed shear stress. Both taxonomic and trait structure changed significantly over time, however taxonomically, communities in the south and north diverged toward different species, becoming more dissimilar over time, yet they converged toward the same traits regardless of species differences. In particular, communities shifted toward smaller, faster-growing species with higher thermal preferences and pelagic water column position. Although taxonomic structure changed over time, its spatial distribution remained relatively stable, whereas in trait structure the southern zone of the North Sea shifted northward and expanded, leading to homogenization. Our findings suggest that global environmental change, notably climate warming, will lead to convergence toward traits more adapted for novel environments regardless of species composition. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)3972-3984
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • biotic homogenization
  • climate change
  • community dynamics
  • ecological traits
  • ecosystem functioning
  • fisheries
  • spatio-temporal variation


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