Climate change is causing species to shift their phenology, or the timing of recurring life events such as migration and spawning, in variable and complex ways. This can potentially result in mismatches or asynchronies in food and habitat resources that negatively impact individual fitness, population dynamics, and ecosystem function. Numerous studies have evaluated phenological shifts in terrestrial species, particularly birds and plants, yet far fewer evaluations have been conducted for marine animals.
This project sought to improve our understanding of shifts in the timing of seasonal migration, spawning or breeding, and biological development (i.e. life stages present, dominant) of coastal fishes and migratory waterbirds along the U.S Atlantic coast. Through stakeholder engagement and outreach across the Northeast region we formed an interdisciplinary working group that developed a regional synthesis of how the timing of biological and human activities were shifting in the Gulf of Maine. We also identified two high priority case studies to focus evaluations and deeper analyses of factors contributing to observed shifts: 1) anadromous river herring in Massachusetts coastal streams, and 2) nesting seabirds across the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. We used a combined approach of synthesis and modeling to determine the direction, magnitude and extent of spatial shifts, as well as identify data gaps and future research needs. The results pointed to complex and location-specific phenological responses to climate-linked variables, but capacity for adaptive strategies to minimize risks to species. Project results are anticipated to increase the efficacy of management and planning tools which can be compromised when target species experience shifts in the timing of life history events.