New Study Shifts the Focus to the Tropics on Ocean Deoxygenation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A paper recently published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE) suggests a new approach is needed to study the depletion of oxygen in the ocean.

The paper describes a need to shift our focus from temperate ecosystems to tropical zones, and to consider the dynamics of whole ecosystems and communities. Oxygen depletion, also known as ocean deoxygenation, can have devastating effects on coastal ecosystems and the services they provide such as fisheries. Given that the number of affected systems is increasing exponentially, there is urgency to better assess the scope of the problem and potential solutions.

Andrew Altieri, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental engineering sciences within the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE), says his findings suggest that studying the threat of ocean deoxygenation in the tropics could be our best bet at combating this threat at a global scale.

“We need to shift our focus from organismal perspectives to a holistic ecosystem level response. We need to take into account multiple stressors in ecosystems and mutualisms, in which species benefit from one another. There is a lot we can learn through comparative studies of corals, seagrass and mangroves. We need to harness the natural resilience potential of these tropical ecosystem, and then apply those insights to ecosystems around the world.”

Using his 20-year research on ocean deoxygenation, Dr. Altieri says this study takes a new perspective and identifies where research gaps exist. Furthermore, it suggests that coastal ecosystems may have built in mechanisms of resilience to this threat that may be harnessed to mitigate and reverse damaging trends.

“I hope to see more scientists, conservationists, and manager turn their attention to the threat of deoxygenation in the tropics. Ultimately, I would like to see governments invest in the resources to track and reverse the threat,” Dr. Altieri said. “Unlike the direct threats of climate change, many of the drivers of deoxygenation can be addressed locally, so there is real potential for new knowledge to drive local action and have an impact,” he added.

To read the study, visit