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At-risk marine biodiversity faces extensive, expanding, and intensifying human impacts

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Science  02 Apr 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6537, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe6731

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An ever-growing human footprint

Human activities are increasingly affecting the marine environment but understanding how much and in what ways is an extreme challenge given the vastness of this system. O'Hara et al. looked at a suite of human-induced stressors on >1000 marine species over the course of 13 years. They found that species are experiencing increasing levels of stress over more than half of their ranges, with some species having an even higher proportion of their ranges affected. Fishing has the largest impact, but other stressors, such as climate change, are also important and growing.

Science, this issue p. 84

Abstract

Human activities and climate change threaten marine biodiversity worldwide, though sensitivity to these stressors varies considerably by species and taxonomic group. Mapping the spatial distribution of 14 anthropogenic stressors from 2003 to 2013 onto the ranges of 1271 at-risk marine species sensitive to them, we found that, on average, species faced potential impacts across 57% of their ranges, that this footprint expanded over time, and that the impacts intensified across 37% of their ranges. Although fishing activity dominated the footprint of impacts in national waters, climate stressors drove the expansion and intensification of impacts. Mitigating impacts on at-risk biodiversity is critical to supporting resilient marine ecosystems, and identifying the co-occurrence of impacts across multiple taxonomic groups highlights opportunities to amplify the benefits of conservation management.

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