Projected declines in global DHA availability for human consumption as a result of global warming
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential, omega-3, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid that is a key component of cell membranes and plays a vital role in vertebrate brain function. The capacity to synthesize DHA is limited in mammals, despite its critical role in neurological development and health. For humans, DHA is most commonly obtained by eating fish. Global warming is predicted to reduce the de novo synthesis of DHA by algae, at the base of aquatic food chains, and which is expected to reduce DHA transferred to fish. We estimated the global quantity of DHA (total and per capita) currently available from commercial (wild caught and aquaculture) and recreational fisheries. The potential decrease in the amount of DHA available from fish for human consumption was modeled using the predicted effect of established global warming scenarios on algal DHA production and ensuing transfer to fish. We conclude that an increase in water temperature could result, depending on the climate scenario and location, in a ~ 10 to 58% loss of globally available DHA by 2100, potentially limiting the availability of this critical nutrient to humans. Inland waters show the greatest potential for climate-warming-induced decreases in DHA available for human consumption. The projected decrease in DHA availability as a result of global warming would disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (e.g., fetuses, infants), especially in inland Africa (due to low reported per capita DHA availability). We estimated, in the worst-case scenario, that DHA availability could decline to levels where 96% of the global population may not have access to sufficient DHA.