The global ocean has warmed substantially over the past century, with far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems. Concurrent with long-term persistent warming, discrete periods of extreme regional ocean warming (marine heatwaves, MHWs) have increased in frequency.

This study quantified trends and attributes of MHWs across all ocean basins and examine their biological impacts from species to ecosystems.

The authors show particular vulnerable regions, due to the co-existence of high levels of biodiversity, a prevalence of species found at their warm range edges or concurrent non-climatic human impacts. It is highlighted that although the physical attributes of MHWs varied considerably, all had deleterious impacts across a range of biological processes and taxa, including critical foundation species (corals, seagrasses and kelps).

It is concluded that MHWs, which will probably intensify with anthropogenic climate change, are rapidly emerging as forceful agents of disturbance with the capacity to restructure entire ecosystems and disrupt the provision of ecological goods and services in coming decades.

Smale et al. (2019) Marine heatwaves threaten global biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services. Nature Climate Change 9:306-312.