This paper summarizes recent efforts on Observing System Evaluation (OS-Eval) by the Ocean Data Assimilation and Prediction (ODAP) communities such as GODAE OceanView and CLIVAR-GSOP. It provides some examples of existing OS-Eval methodologies, and attempts to discuss the potential and limitation of the existing approaches. Observing System Experiment (OSE) studies illustrate the impacts of the severe decrease in the number of TAO buoys during 2012–2014 and TRITON buoys since 2013 on ODAP system performance. Multi-system evaluation of the impacts of assimilating satellite sea surface salinity data based on OSEs has been performed to demonstrate the need to continue and enhance satellite salinity missions. Impacts of underwater gliders have been assessed using Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSEs) to provide guidance on the effective coordination of the western North Atlantic observing system elements. OSSEs are also being performed under H2020 AtlantOS project with the goal to enhance and optimize the Atlantic in-situ networks. Potential of future satellite missions of wide-swath altimetry and surface ocean currents monitoring is explored through OSSEs and evaluation of Degrees of Freedom for Signal (DFS). Forecast Sensitivity Observation Impacts (FSOI) are routinely evaluated for monitoring the ocean observation impacts in the US Navy's ODAP system. Perspectives on the extension of OS-Eval to coastal regions, the deep ocean, polar regions, coupled data assimilation, and biogeochemical applications are also presented. Based on the examples above, we identify the limitations of OS-Eval, indicating that the most significant limitation is reduction of robustness and reliability of the results due to their system-dependency. The difficulty of performing evaluation in near real time is also critical. A strategy to mitigate the limitation and to strengthen the impact of evaluations is discussed. In particular, we emphasize the importance of collaboration within the ODAP community for multi-system evaluation and of communication with ocean observational communities on the design of OS-Eval, required resources, and effective distribution of the results. Finally, we recommend further developing OS-Eval activities at international level with the support of the international ODAP (e.g., OceanPredict and CLIVAR-GSOP) and observational communities.
The following titles are freely-available, or include a link to a preprint or postprint.
Within the context of global climate change and overfishing of fish stocks, there is some evidence that cephalopod populations are benefiting from this changing setting. These invertebrates show enhanced phenotypic flexibility and are found from polar regions to the tropics. Yet, the global patterns of species richness in coastal cephalopods are not known. Here, among the 370 identified-species, 164 are octopuses, 96 are cuttlefishes, 54 are bobtails and bottletails, 48 are inshore squids and 8 are pygmy squids. The most diverse ocean is the Pacific (with 213 cephalopod species), followed by the Indian (146 species) and Atlantic (95 species). The least diverse are the Southern (15 species) and the Arctic (12 species) Oceans. Endemism is higher in the Southern Ocean (87%) and lower in the Arctic (25%), which reflects the younger age and the “Atlantification” of the latter. The former is associated with an old lineage of octopuses that diverged around 33 Mya. Within the 232 ecoregions considered, the highest values of octopus and cuttlefish richness are observed in the Central Kuroshio Current ecoregion (with a total of 64 species), followed by the East China Sea (59 species). This pattern suggests dispersal in the Central Indo-Pacific (CIP) associated with the highly productive Oyashio/Kuroshio current system. In contrast, inshore squid hotspots are found within the CIP, namely in the Sunda Shelf Province, which may be linked to the occurrence of an ancient intermittent biogeographic barrier: a land bridge formed during the Pleistocene which severely restricted water flow between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, thereby facilitating squid fauna differentiation. Another marked pattern is a longitudinal richness cline from the Central (CIP) toward the Eastern Indo-Pacific (EIP) realm, with central Pacific archipelagos as evolutionary dead ends. In the Atlantic Ocean, closure of the Atrato Seaway (at the Isthmus of Panama) and Straits of Gibraltar (Mediterranean Sea) are historical processes that may explain the contemporary Caribbean octopus richness and Mediterranean sepiolid endemism, respectively. Last, we discuss how the life cycles and strategies of cephalopods may allow them to adapt quickly to future climate change and extend the borealization of their distribution.
Natural variability and change of the Earth’s climate have significant global societal impacts. With its large heat and carbon capacity and relatively slow dynamics, the ocean plays an integral role in climate, and provides an important source of predictability at seasonal and longer timescales. In addition, the ocean provides the slowly evolving lower boundary to the atmosphere, driving, and modifying atmospheric weather. Understanding and monitoring ocean climate variability and change, to constrain and initialize models as well as identify model biases for improved climate hindcasting and prediction, requires a scale-sensitive, and long-term observing system. A climate observing system has requirements that significantly differ from, and sometimes are orthogonal to, those of other applications. In general terms, they can be summarized by the simultaneous need for both large spatial and long temporal coverage, and by the accuracy and stability required for detecting the local climate signals. This paper reviews the requirements of a climate observing system in terms of space and time scales, and revisits the question of which parameters such a system should encompass to meet future strategic goals of the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), with emphasis on ocean and sea-ice covered areas. It considers global as well as regional aspects that should be accounted for in designing observing systems in individual basins. Furthermore, the paper discusses which data-driven products are required to meet WCRP research and modeling needs, and ways to obtain them through data synthesis and assimilation approaches. Finally, it addresses the need for scientific capacity building and international collaboration in support of the collection of high-quality measurements over the large spatial scales and long time-scales required for climate research, bridging the scientific rational to the required resources for implementation.
The Southern Ocean is disproportionately important in its effect on the Earth system, impacting climatic, biogeochemical, and ecological systems, which makes recent observed changes to this system cause for global concern. The enhanced understanding and improvements in predictive skill needed for understanding and projecting future states of the Southern Ocean require sustained observations. Over the last decade, the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) has established networks for enhancing regional coordination and research community groups to advance development of observing system capabilities. These networks support delivery of the SOOS 20-year vision, which is to develop a circumpolar system that ensures time series of key variables, and delivers the greatest impact from data to all key end-users. Although the Southern Ocean remains one of the least-observed ocean regions, enhanced international coordination and advances in autonomous platforms have resulted in progress toward sustained observations of this region. Since 2009, the Southern Ocean community has deployed over 5700 observational platforms south of 40°S. Large-scale, multi-year or sustained, multidisciplinary efforts have been supported and are now delivering observations of essential variables at space and time scales that enable assessment of changes being observed in Southern Ocean systems. The improved observational coverage, however, is predominantly for the open ocean, encompasses the summer, consists of primarily physical oceanographic variables, and covers surface to 2000 m. Significant gaps remain in observations of the ice-impacted ocean, the sea ice, depths >2000 m, the air-ocean-ice interface, biogeochemical and biological variables, and for seasons other than summer. Addressing these data gaps in a sustained way requires parallel advances in coordination networks, cyberinfrastructure and data management tools, observational platform and sensor technology, two-way platform interrogation and data-transmission technologies, modeling frameworks, intercalibration experiments, and development of internationally agreed sampling standards and requirements of key variables. This paper presents a community statement on the major scientific and observational progress of the last decade, and importantly, an assessment of key priorities for the coming decade, toward achieving the SOOS vision and delivering essential data to all end-users.
The need for improved access to ocean observations for Pacific Island countries (PICs) and territories has been increasingly recognized over the last decade, particularly in the face of a changing climate. Although more remote sensing and in situ data are available than ever before, however, oceanographic, and marine forecasting expertise in the region is limited. To support capacity building in these areas, the Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac) has engaged with partners in the National Meteorological Services (NMS) and other relevant agencies in 14 Pacific Island nations, to identify priorities and to develop tools and training to address these needs. A key tool is the online Pacific Ocean Portal. With a focus on the Pacific Islands region, this website provides ocean data relevant to a range of sectors and applications such as tourism, fishing, shipping, coastal inundation, and environmental management. Via a user-friendly interface, the portal serves up data from a variety of sources including near real-time observations, historical information and forecast data. Training modules have been designed for portal users and delivery has gone hand-in-hand with in-country stakeholder engagement workshops, allowing sector users to make requests for ocean information products. Eight workshops have been delivered from November 2015 to June 2018, training a total of 97 NMS staff and 116 ocean sector stakeholders including port authorities, disaster management, tourism, fisheries, community leaders, and many more. As a result, five Pacific Island NMSs (Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, and Vanuatu) are now producing monthly Ocean Outlooks, guided by the needs of in-country stakeholders. Outlooks are tailored for each country and can include forecasts such as sea surface temperature, coral bleaching, and sea level, as well as information about current chlorophyll conditions, wind, and wave climate.
Ocean boundary current systems are key components of the climate system, are home to highly productive ecosystems, and have numerous societal impacts. Establishment of a global network of boundary current observing systems is a critical part of ongoing development of the Global Ocean Observing System. The characteristics of boundary current systems are reviewed, focusing on scientific and societal motivations for sustained observing. Techniques currently used to observe boundary current systems are reviewed, followed by a census of the current state of boundary current observing systems globally. The next steps in the development of boundary current observing systems are considered, leading to several specific recommendations.
Observations of conditions at the ocean surface have been made for centuries, contributing to some of the longest instrumental records of climate change. Most prominent is the climate data record (CDR) of sea surface temperature (SST), which is itself essential to the majority of activities in climate science and climate service provision. A much wider range of surface marine observations is available however, providing a rich source of data on past climate. We present a general error model describing the characteristics of observations used for the construction of climate records, illustrating the importance of multi-variate records with rich metadata for reducing uncertainty in CDRs. We describe the data and metadata requirements for the construction of stable, multi-century marine CDRs for variables important for describing the changing climate: SST, mean sea level pressure, air temperature, humidity, winds, clouds, and waves. Available sources of surface marine data are reviewed in the context of the error model. We outline the need for a range of complementary observations, including very high quality observations at a limited number of locations and also observations that sample more broadly but with greater uncertainty. We describe how high-resolution modern records, particularly those of high-quality, can help to improve the quality of observations throughout the historical record. We recommend the extension of internationally-coordinated data management and curation to observation types that do not have a primary focus of the construction of climate records. Also recommended is reprocessing the existing surface marine climate archive to improve and quantify data and metadata quality and homogeneity. We also recommend the expansion of observations from research vessels and high quality moorings, routine observations from ships and from data and metadata rescue. Other priorities include: field evaluation of sensors; resources for the process of establishing user requirements and determining whether requirements are being met; and research to estimate uncertainty, quantify biases and to improve methods of construction of CDRs. The requirements developed in this paper encompass specific actions involving a variety of stakeholders, including funding agencies, scientists, data managers, observing network operators, satellite agencies, and international co-ordination bodies.
Measuring and monitoring the behavior and biomedical condition of free-ranging whales remains a fundamental challenge in cetacean science and conservation. Advances in unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) and infrared thermography (IRT) create unprecedented opportunities to fill these knowledge gaps and advance our understanding of how cetaceans interact with the environment. Here, we show that non-invasive UAS-IRT systems, deployed from shore-based positions in a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) calving ground, can be used to document rarely observed whale behaviors and to quantify biomedical vital signs, including blowhole and dorsal fin skin temperature, respiration rate, and heart rate. Our findings demonstrate: (1) prolonged (>3 h) logging behavior by a mother-calf pair located ∼550 m offshore; (2) that the calf’s respiration rate (∼3 breaths per minute) was six times higher than its mother’s (∼0.5 breaths per minute); (3) that the calf’s blowholes were ∼1.55°C warmer than adjacent ocean water and that the mother’s blowholes were ∼2.16°C warmer than adjacent ocean water; (4) that the mother’s dorsal fin included four infrared (IR) hot-spots, each separated by ∼20 cm in horizontal distance, that ranged between 1 and 2°C warmer than adjacent ocean water; (5) a significant (p <<0.05; wavelet analysis) temporal cyclicity in the hottest of the mother’s dorsal fin hot-spots consistent with cardiovascular blood flow pumped at an apneic heart rate of ∼9.3 beats per minute. Despite these novel results, there remain several key limitations to UAS-IRT, including its: sensitivity to environmental conditions and animal behavior; equipment costs and associated risks; potential regulatory restrictions; time-intensive nature of IR data processing; factors that can impact data quality, such as imaging angle and sensor accuracy. Future opportunities created by the UAS-IRT results we report center on the potential to couple non-invasive behavioral and physiological monitoring tools, quantify cetacean response to prolonged environmental change and acute disturbances, and extend UAS-IRT applications to cover a wider range of environmental and behavioral contexts. Considering the small sample size of the dataset we report, application of UAS-IRT to live-stranded and captive cetaceans, where environmental and cetacean conditions can be independently measured, is of paramount importance.
The incidence of marine traffic has risen in recent decades and is expected to continue rising as maritime traffic, vessel speed, and engine power all continue to increase. Although long considered anecdotal, ship strikes are now recognized as a major threat to cetaceans. However, estimation of ship strike rates is still challenging notably because such events occurred generally far offshore and collision between large ships and whales go often unnoticed by ship crew. The monitoring of marine mammal strandings remain one the most efficient ways to evaluate the problem. In France, a national coordinated network collected data and samples on stranded marine mammals since 1972 along the Mediterranean and Atlantic French coasts. We examined stranding data, including photography and necropsy reports, collected between 1972 and 2017 with the aim to provide a comprehensive review of confirmed collision records of large whales in France. During this period, a total of 51 ship strike incidents were identified which represents the 1st identified causes of mortality for large whale in France. It has increased since 1972 with seven records during the 1st decade to reach 22 stranded animals observed between 2005 and 2017. This issue appears particularly critical in the Mediterranean Sea where one in five stranded whales showed evidence of ship strike. This review of collision records highlights the risk of a negative impact of this anthropogenic pressure on the dynamic of whale populations in Europe, suggesting that ship strike rates could not allow achieving the Good Environmental Status of marine mammal populations required by the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Humans interact with the oceans in diverse and profound ways. The scope, magnitude, footprint and ultimate cumulative impacts of human activities can threaten ocean ecosystems and have changed over time, resulting in new challenges and threats to marine ecosystems. A fundamental gap in understanding how humanity is affecting the oceans is our limited knowledge about the pace of change in cumulative impact on ocean ecosystems from expanding human activities – and the patterns, locations and drivers of most significant change. To help address this, we combined high resolution, annual data on the intensity of 14 human stressors and their impact on 21 marine ecosystems over 11 years (2003–2013) to assess pace of change in cumulative impacts on global oceans, where and how much that pace differs across the ocean, and which stressors and their impacts contribute most to those changes. We found that most of the ocean (59%) is experiencing significantly increasing cumulative impact, in particular due to climate change but also from fishing, land-based pollution and shipping. Nearly all countries saw increases in cumulative impacts in their coastal waters, as did all ecosystems, with coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves at most risk. Mitigation of stressors most contributing to increases in overall cumulative impacts is urgently needed to sustain healthy oceans.
A major challenge in analysis of huge amounts of ocean data is the complexity of the data and the inherent complexity of ocean dynamic process. Interactive visual analysis serves as an efficient complementary approach for the detection of various phenomenon or patterns, and correlation exploring or comparing multiple variables in researchers daily work. Firstly, this paper presents a basic concept of ocean data produced from numerous measurement devices or computer simulations. The characteristics of ocean data and the related data processing techniques are also described. Secondly, the main tasks of ocean data analysis are introduced. Based on the main analysis tasks in ocean domain, the survey emphasizes related interactive visualization techniques and tools from four aspects: visualization of multiple ocean environmental elements and multivariate analysis, ocean phenomena identification and tracking, patterns or correlation discovery, ensembles and uncertainties exploration. Finally, the opportunities are discussed for future studies.
Migration is a widespread but highly diverse component of many animal life histories. Fish migrate throughout the world's oceans, within lakes and rivers, and between the two realms, transporting matter, energy, and other species (e.g., microbes) across boundaries. Migration is therefore a process responsible for myriad ecosystem services. Many human populations depend on the presence of predictable migrations of fish for their subsistence and livelihoods. Although much research has focused on fish migration, many questions remain in our rapidly changing world. We assembled a diverse team of fundamental and applied scientists who study fish migrations in marine and freshwater environments to identify pressing unanswered questions. Our exercise revealed questions within themes related to understanding the migrating individual's internal state, navigational mechanisms, locomotor capabilities, external drivers of migration, the threats confronting migratory fish including climate change, and the role of migration. In addition, we identified key requirements for aquatic animal management, restoration, policy, and governance. Lessons revealed included the difficulties in generalizing among species and populations, and in understanding the levels of connectivity facilitated by migrating fishes. We conclude by identifying priority research needed for assuring a sustainable future for migratory fishes.
Pulau Redang and Pulau Tioman have experienced huge tourism growth over the last two decades, but minimal sewage treatment may threaten the resilience of their coral reefs. This study uses stable isotope techniques to identify suitable bioindicators of sewage nutrients (δ15N) at these islands by measuring macroalgae (Lobophora spp.), gastropods (Drupella spp.), scleractinian coral (Acropora spp.), and leather coral (Sinularia spp.). At tourist hubs using seepage septic tank systems, enrichment of Acropora δ15N (Redang, +0.7‰) and Sinularia δ15N (Tioman, +0.4‰) compared to pristine background levels indicate enhanced sewage nutrient discharge. Carbon isotopes and survey data suggest that sedimentation did not confound these δ15N trends. Potential damaging effects of sewage discharge on the coral reef communities at both islands are highlighted by strong correlations between Acropora δ15N and regional variation in coral reef community structure, and exclusive occurrence of degraded reefs at regions of high sewage influence.
Sediment disturbances are important threats affecting marine biodiversity, but the variety of biological responses has not yet been synthesized. Here, we collate all available information to compare the extent of impacts across different taxonomic groups, habitat types and pathways of impact (light attenuation, suspended sediment and sedimentation).
Data collected from 1979 to 2017.
Major taxa studied
Corals, fishes, seagrasses, sponges, macroalgae, ascidians, bryozoans, crustaceans, echinoderms, molluscs and polychaetes.
We used meta‐analyses to evaluate the effects of sediments across 842 observations found in 110 publications. We also evaluated some of the biological and methodological factors that could explain the variable effects observed in different studies.
We found a significant negative effect of sediments on behavioural responses of species, reproduction and recruitment processes, the morphology of organisms, physiology, community abundance and diversity, and species interactions. In contrast, the overall effect on the abundance of individual species was statistically non‐significant and there was a strong positive effect on abundance for sponge and polychaete species. Many individual studies described physiological effects on coral reefs, but the effects on the diversity of soft‐bottom and coral reef communities were particularly detrimental. Phototrophic species were generally more negatively impacted by sediments than heterotrophs, driven by strong physiological responses in crustose coralline algae and seagrasses. Additionally, species with limited mobility were more vulnerable to sediment disturbances than highly mobile species. Sedimentation alone triggered more consistently negative effects on most biological responses than light depletion and suspended sediments. We found evidence for increased impacts on community diversity when more than one pathway of impact was present, indicating that these disturbances can disrupt whole ecosystems.
Our meta‐analysis provided, for the first time, strong quantitative support of negative effects of sediments on marine biodiversity. Taxonomic groups, habitat types and life‐history characteristics were most influential in determining the biological responses to sediment disturbances, highlighting the importance of an ecosystem‐based approach when fully accounting for the impacts of sediments.
The community of species, human institutions, and human activities at a given location have been shaped by historical conditions (both mean and variability) at that location. Anthropogenic climate change is now adding strong trends on top of existing natural variability. These trends elevate the frequency of “surprises”—conditions that are unexpected based on recent history. Here, we show that the frequency of surprising ocean temperatures has increased even faster than expected based on recent temperature trends. Using a simple model of human adaptation, we show that these surprises will increasingly challenge natural modes of adaptation that rely on historical experience. We also show that warming rates are likely to shift natural communities toward generalist species, reducing their productivity and diversity. Our work demonstrates increasing benefits for individuals and institutions from betting that trends will continue, but this strategy represents a radical shift that will be difficult for many to make.
In February and March 2017, a coastal El Niño caused extraordinary heavy rains and a rise in water temperatures along the coast of northern Peru. In this work, we document the impacts of this phenomenon on the artisanal fisheries and the scallop aquaculture sector, both of which represent important socio-economic activities for the province of Sechura. Despite the perceived absence of effective disaster management and rehabilitation policies, resource users opted for a wide range of different adaptation strategies and are currently striving towards recovery. One year after the event, the artisanal fisheries fleet has returned to operating almost on a normal scale, while the aquaculture sector is still drastically impacted, with many people continuing to work in different economic sectors and even in other regions of the country. Recovery of the social-ecological system of Sechura likely depends on the occurrence of scallop seed and the financial capacity of small-scale producers to reinitiate scallop cultures. Long-term consequences of this coastal El Niño are yet to be studied, though the need to develop trans-local and trans-sectoral management strategies for coping with disturbance events of this scale is emphasized.
Hydrological monitoring is essential to guide evidence-based decision making necessary for sustainable water resource management and governance. Limited hydrometric datasets and the pressure on long-term hydrological monitoring networks make it paramount to explore alternative methods for data collection. This is particularly the case for low-income countries, where data scarcity is more pronounced, and where conventional monitoring methods are expensive and logistically challenging. Citizen science in hydrological research has recently gained popularity and crowdsourced monitoring is a promising cost-effective approach for data collection. Citizen science also has the potential to enhance knowledge co-creation and science-based evidence that underpins the governance and management of water resources. This paper provides a comprehensive review on citizen science and crowdsourced data collection within the context of hydrology, based on a synthesis of 71 articles from 2001 to 2018. Application of citizen science in hydrology is increasing in number and breadth, generating a plethora of scientific data. Citizen science approaches differ in scale, scope and degree of citizen involvement. Most of the programs are found in North America and Europe. Participation mostly comprises a contributory citizen science model, which engages citizens in data collection. In order to leverage the full potential of citizen science in knowledge co-generation, future citizen science projects in hydrology could benefit from more co-created types of projects that establish strong ties between research and public engagement, thereby enhancing the long-term sustainability of monitoring networks.
Since the 1950s, industrial fisheries have expanded globally, as fishing vessels are required to travel further afield for fishing opportunities. Technological advancements and fishery subsidies have granted ever-increasing access to populations of sharks, tunas, billfishes, and other predators. Wilderness refuges, defined here as areas beyond the detectable range of human influence, are therefore increasingly rare. In order to achieve marine resources sustainability, large no-take marine protected areas (MPAs) with pelagic components are being implemented. However, such conservation efforts require knowledge of the critical habitats for predators, both across shallow reefs and the deeper ocean. Here, we fill this gap in knowledge across the Indo-Pacific by using 1,041 midwater baited videos to survey sharks and other pelagic predators such as rainbow runner (Elagatis bipinnulata), mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus), and black marlin (Istiompax indica). We modeled three key predator community attributes: vertebrate species richness, mean maximum body size, and shark abundance as a function of geomorphology, environmental conditions, and human pressures. All attributes were primarily driven by geomorphology (35%−62% variance explained) and environmental conditions (14%−49%). While human pressures had no influence on species richness, both body size and shark abundance responded strongly to distance to human markets (12%−20%). Refuges were identified at more than 1,250 km from human markets for body size and for shark abundance. These refuges were identified as remote and shallow seabed features, such as seamounts, submerged banks, and reefs. Worryingly, hotpots of large individuals and of shark abundance are presently under-represented within no-take MPAs that aim to effectively protect marine predators, such as the British Indian Ocean Territory. Population recovery of predators is unlikely to occur without strategic placement and effective enforcement of large no-take MPAs in both coastal and remote locations.
The accelerating marks of climate change on coral-reef ecosystems, combined with the recognition that traditional management measures are not efficient enough to cope with climate change tempo and human footprints, have raised a need for new approaches to reef restoration. The most widely used approach is the “coral gardening” tenet; an active reef restoration tactic based on principles, concepts, and theories used in silviculture. During the relatively short period since its inception, the gardening approach has been tested globally in a wide range of reef sites, and on about 100 coral species, utilizing hundreds of thousands of nursery-raised coral colonies. While still lacking credibility for simulating restoration scenarios under forecasted climate change impacts, and with a limited adaptation toolkit used in the gardening approach, it is still deficient. Therefore, novel restoration avenues have recently been suggested and devised, and some have already been tested, primarily in the laboratory. Here, I describe seven classes of such novel avenues and tools, which include the improved gardening methodologies, ecological engineering approaches, assisted migration/colonization, assisted genetics/evolution, assisted microbiome, coral epigenetics, and coral chimerism. These are further classified into three operation levels, each dependent on the success of the former level. Altogether, the seven approaches and the three operation levels represent a unified active reef restoration toolbox, under the umbrella of the gardening tenet, focusing on the enhancement of coral resilience and adaptation in a changing world.
Despite widespread climate-driven reductions of coral cover on tropical reefs, little attention has been paid to the possibility that changes in the geographic distribution of coral recruitment could facilitate beneficial responses to the changing climate through latitudinal range shifts. To address this possibility, we compiled a global database of normalized densities of coral recruits on settlement tiles (corals m-2) deployed from 1974 to 2012, and used the data therein to test for latitudinal range shifts in the distribution of coral recruits. In total, 92 studies provided 1253 records of coral recruitment, with 77% originating from settlement tiles immersed for 3-24 mo, herein defined as long-immersion tiles (LITs); the limited temporal and geographic coverage of data from short-immersion tiles (SITs; deployed for <3 mo) made them less suitable for the present purpose. The results from LITs show declines in coral recruitment, on a global scale (i.e. 82% from 1974 to 2012) and throughout the tropics (85% reduction at <20° latitude), and increases in the sub-tropics (78% increase at >20° latitude). These trends indicate that a global decline in coral recruitment has occurred since 1974, and the persistent reduction in the densities of recruits in equatorial latitudes, coupled with increased densities in sub-tropical latitudes, suggests that coral recruitment may be shifting poleward.