Empirical evidence for different cognitive effects in explaining the attribution of marine range shifts to climate change

Ingrid E. van Putten (1,2,3,) Stewart Frusher (2,3), Elizabeth A. Fulton (1,3) Alistair J. Hobday(1,3), Sarah M. Jennings(3,4) Sarah Metcalf (5), Gretta T. Pecl (2,3)


1 CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tasmania, 7001, Australia.

2 Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart 7000, Tasmania, Australia.

3 Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart 7000, Tasmania, Australia

4 University of Tasmania, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, Hobart, 7000 Tasmania, Australia

5 Murdoch University, School of Management and Governance, South Street, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150, Australia.

The changing geographical distribution of species, or range shift, is one of the better documented fingerprints of climate change in the marine environment.  Range shifts often involve dramatic changes in the distribution of economic, social and cultural opportunities. These changes challenge marine resource users’ capacity to adapt to a changing climate and managers’ ability to implement adaptation plans. In particular, a reluctance

to attribute marine range shift to climate change can undermine the effectiveness of climate change communications and pose a barrier to successful adaptation. Attribution is a known powerful predictor of behavioural intention. Understanding the cognitive processes that underpin the formation of marine resource users’ beliefs about the cause of observed marine range shift phenomena is therefore an important topic for research.  An examination of the attribution by marine resource users of three types of range shifts experienced in a marine climate change hotspot in south east Australia to various climate and non-climate drivers, indicates the existence of at least three contributing cognitions. These are: 1) engrained mental representations of environmental phenomena, 2) scientific complexity in the attribution pathway, and 3) dissonance from the positive or negative nature of the impact. All three play a part in explaining the complex pattern of attribution of marine climate change range shifts, and should be considered when planning for engagement with stakeholders and managers around climate adaptation.