Wai Lung Cheung


Research Interests

climate change
Marine Ecosystems

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

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I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Climate change impacts on living marine resources in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (2021)

The impacts of climate change on fish stocks are heightened in the tropics, where catch losses are projected to be three to four times the global average. Yet, there are large sub-regional variations in the drivers and magnitudes of shifting species distributions and their implications for fisheries. In this thesis, I aim to better understand the impacts of climate change on fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Peru. First, I applied a species distribution modeling approach to project future impacts on species caught by the main fisheries in the region. Species are projected to shift towards the equator, seeking the more favorable, cooler habitats associated with the Humboldt and equatorial upwelling systems, as well as towards more oxygenated, inshore waters, away from the expanding oxygen minimum zones. Second, I developed and evaluated the performance of a Biogeographically derived Metabolic Index (BDMI). The BDMI can be generalized to assess the combined effects of warming and deoxygenation on the habitat viability of marine fishes and invertebrates. Thirdly, I applied two catch-based indicators derived from the BDMI to analyze the sensitivity of pelagic fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific to warming and deoxygenation between 1970 and 2009. Temperature was the main factor driving oxygen limitation in pelagic catches. In contrast, when I applied these indices to the demersal community along the oxygen minimum zones off the Costa Rican Pacific coast, ambient oxygen was the main factor driving the responses of the exploited community, although species distributions were sensitive to changes in both temperature and oxygen. In both pelagic and demersal environments, I identified potential temperature and oxygen thresholds that separate different exploited communities with different sensitivities to changing temperature and oxygen levels. Overall, I conclude that warming and deoxygenation will likely impact fisheries resources in the region, revealing the importance of expanding our capability and credibility in projecting future changes. By modeling the mechanisms underlying the non-linear responses of biological communities to ocean warming and deoxygenation, the analytical approaches developed in this thesis can facilitate the detection, attribution and projection of climate impacts, including biogeographical shifts and three-dimensional habitat compression.

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Impacts of climate change on the trophic functioning of the world ocean (2021)

Climate change impacts on marine life in the world ocean are expected to increase over the 21st century. In this thesis, I investigated the effects of climate change on biomass flows in marine food webs and their consequences on ecosystem structure and functioning. First, the transfer efficiency and biomass residence time are estimated in the world’ shelf seas from 1950 to 2010. Based on the projected ocean warming under two climate scenarios, I highlighted that biomass transfers may be faster and less efficient by 2100 without mitigation of greenhouse gases emissions. Then, using a modelling framework called EcoTroph that is based on a representation of biomass flow, I projected the future of consumer biomass in marine food webs. From the projected changes in temperature and primary production, marine animal biomass is estimated at each trophic level on a 1° x 1° grid of the global ocean from 1950 to 2100. The projections showed that the projected alteration of biomass flows may lead to a global decline in consumer biomass by 2100 under the “no mitigation policy” climate scenario, with more pronounced impacts at higher trophic levels. In the European waters, the EcoTroph model forced by a coupled hydrodynamic-ecosystem model is used to investigate the potential climate change effects on the ecosystem structure and functioning. The results revealed that biomass and catch may decrease by 2100 under the “no mitigation policy” scenario and if fishing mortality remains constant at its current value. Overall, this thesis showed that climate change would alter biomass flows in marine ecosystems, causing a decrease in the future ocean animal biomass and direct repercussions on fisheries.

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Transboundary fish stocks and their management under climate change (2021)

Under the United Nations Law of the Seas and the delineation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), fish stocks that cross neighbouring EEZs are known as transboundary stocks. The sustainability of these stocks depends on international cooperation. However, cooperation is faced with the challenges of insufficient understanding of where and how much fisheries resources are transboundary and climate change is shifting the distribution of marine species. My main objective is to understand the impacts of climate change-induced shifts on transboundary fish stocks distributions and their management, thereby informing international fisheries governance to prepare and respond to climate change. I rely on multiple data sources and numerical modelling to project species distributions under different scenarios of climate change.I found that 67% of the species analyzed are transboundary and that between 2005 and 2014, fisheries targeting these species within global‐EEZs caught on average 48 million tonnes per year, equivalent to USD 77 billion in fishing revenue. As climate change alters ocean properties, the distribution of these species’ transboundary stocks are projected to shift to higher latitude, deeper waters or follow local environmental gradients. Specifically, 60% of the global transboundary stocks will have shifted beyond their historical distribution by 2020, and by 2075, all EEZs are projected to have a shifting transboundary stock. Moreover, the shared proportion of the catch of transboundary stocks between neighboring EEZs will change by 2030 relative to the historic proportion. The changes in the distribution and share proportion of transboundary stocks can potentially impacts the management of the related fisheries. For example, Canada and the United States manage important transboundary stocks. However, by 2050, the proportion of the total catch of some transboundary fish stocks shared between the two countries are expected to change relative to the present, even under a low greenhouse gas emissions scenario.My findings improve our understanding about the current status of transboundary stocks and highlight the challenges that fisheries management will face in a changing climate. Finally, I identify potential adaptation options for transboundary fisheries management such as side payments, dynamic rules, and interchangeable quotas that can improve their sustainability under climate change.

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Global seafood production from mariculture: current status, trends and its future under climate change (2020)

Mariculture is growing rapidly over the last three decades at an average rate of about 3.7% per year from 2001 to 2010. However, questions about mariculture sustainable development are uncertain because of diverse environmental challenges and concerns that the sector faces. Changing ocean conditions such as temperature, acidity, oxygen level and primary production can affect mariculture production, directly and indirectly, particularly the open and semi-open ocean farming operations. This dissertation aims to understand climate change impact on future seafood production from mariculture. Firstly, I update the existing Global Mariculture Database (GMD) with recent mariculture production and create a farm-gate price database to match the production data. I show that global mariculture production in 2015 was 27.6 million tonnes, with a farm-gate value of USD 85 billion. Secondly, I develop quantitative models to predict the present-day global suitable marine area for mariculture. The results show that total suitable mariculture area for the 102 farmed species is 72 million km²: 66 million km², 39 million km² and 31 million km² for finfish, crustaceans and mollusc respectively. Thirdly, I predict climate change impact on suitable marine areas and diversity. Results show that climate change may lead to a substantial redistribution of mariculture species richness, with large decline in potential farm species richness in the tropical to sub-tropical regions. Fourthly, I predict global mariculture production potential (MPP) under climate change. Results suggest that global mariculture production potential will decrease substantially by 16% in the 2050s relative to 2020s under the business as usual scenario. Finally, I develop a set of shared socioeconomic pathways for mariculture to assess the plausible future scenarios for sustainable mariculture under global change. The results highlight that future mariculture development and sustainability will depend on the efficiency of four domains; science and technology; society; governance and economics.Overall, the dissertation shows that climate change is a major threat to seafood production from mariculture. Climate change effect will depend on the species that are farmed, their locations and the farming operation/technology employed. Future research on the sustainable development pathway for mariculture should further expand on socio-economic modelling and projections.

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Shedding light on the future of caribbean coral reefs under climate change (2020)

Coral reefs are important ecologically and socially but are threatened by local human impacts and future global climate change. Effective management promotes climate resilience but must take into account the unique multi-scale characteristics of coral reef ecosystems. This dissertation assessed historic trends in coral reef fish assemblages across the Caribbean, to determine the impacts of climate change and role of key environmental drivers in shaping these trends and investigated the influence of these drivers on future reef fish biodiversity. Firstly, using ecosystem indicators, I analyzed historical fisheries catches to assess the potential effects of ocean warming and habitat availability on Caribbean reef fish assemblages. I found that changes in community assemblages were higher than global average for all tropical fisheries and could be explained by increases in sea surface temperature and fishing effects. A negative interaction between reef habitats in each country and sea surface temperature in relation to changes in catch composition, suggesting that habitats may reduce the sensitivity of fish communities to warming. Secondly, using species distribution models, I projected changes in coral reefs under climate change in terms of their morphological complexity. Results showed that under a no-mitigation scenario reef complexity declines significantly, with the most morphologically complex species, Acropora sp., showing northward shifts in relative prevalence. Finally, I conducted multi-scale comparisons of the influence of reef complexity with other environmental variables on current and future Caribbean reef fish biodiversity. Reef fishes showed an affinity for higher temperatures, primary productivity and lower dissolved oxygen at the global scale, but tended toward more alkaline areas hosting reefs, with species showing mixed affinities toward dissolved oxygen. Regional models projected more rapid declines in biodiversity, though declines from global models were larger. Global and regional models projected similar magnitudes of range expansion, though invasions were projected mainly in higher latitudes for global models while regional models projected invasions in lower latitudes around reef-associated areas. Overall, my thesis provides new knowledge for climate-resilient conservation planning by highlighting the utility of multi-scale approaches and the role coral reef habitats may play in protecting reef fish assemblages against the impacts of climate change.

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Building tools to model the effects of ocean acidification and how it scales from physiology to fisheries (2019)

Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by anthropogenic fossil fuel burning and is one of multiple climate-related stressors in marine environments. Understanding of how these stressors will interact to affect marine life and fisheries is limited. In this thesis, I used integrated modelling approaches to scale the effects of biophysical drivers from physiology to population dynamics and fisheries. I focused on ocean acidification and how it interacts with other main drivers such as temperature and oxygen. I used a dynamic bioclimatic envelope model (DBEM) to project the effects of global environmental change on fisheries under two contrasting scenarios of climate change—the low optimistic climate change scenario in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5˚ C, and the high climate change scenario on par with our current ‘business-as-usual’ trajectory. First, I developed an ex-vessel fish price database and explored methods using various ocean acidification assumptions. Ex-vessel fish prices are essential for fisheries economic analyses, while model development of ocean acidification effects are important to better understand the uncertainties surrounding acidification and the sensitivity of the model to these uncertainties. These tools and methods were then used to project the impacts of ocean acidification, in the context of climate change, on global invertebrate fisheries—the species group most sensitive to acidification. My results showed that areas with greater acidification have greater negative responses to climate change, e.g. polar regions. However, ocean warming will likely be a greater driver in species distributions and may overshadow direct effects of acidification. While greater climate change will generally have negative consequences on fisheries, Arctic regions may see increased fisheries catch potential as species shift poleward. Canada’s Arctic remains one of the most pristine marine regions left in the world and climate-driven increases in fisheries potential will have major implications for biodiversity and local indigenous reliance on marine resources. In the face of global environmental change, my thesis provides databases, modelling approaches, scenario development, and assessments of global change necessary for adaptation and mitigation of climate-related effects on marine fisheries.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Projecting catch potential for British Columbia First Nations under climate change and fisheries management scenarios (2023)

Human activities, particularly climate change and over-exploitation, negatively impact marine biodiversity and seafood availability which is a source of food for many coastal communities to be negatively impacted. Coastal First Nations in British Columbia are inherently connected to marine life through fishing - thus, it's crucial to explore climate change and fisheries' effects on fish stocks. This study assessed the potential seafood availability from 24 marine species that are important for four First Nations in British Columbia: Skidegate, ‘Namgis, Tla’amin, and Nuxalk (Bella Coola). This study estimated that in 2018, the marine food harvest for the communities totaled approximately 28.3, 27.0, 27.9, and 19.0 tonnes, respectively. Using a Dynamic Bioclimate Envelope model, the study projected potential changes in seafood availability, for the four First Nations under climate change and fishing scenarios. Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), and eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) were most sensitive to climate change, with projected declines by 2090 under the high emissions scenarios, while pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), Nuttall’s cockle (Clainocardium nuttallii), and dolly varden trout (Salvelinus malma malma) were more resilient to climate change. Tla’amin faced the greatest risk of climate change on potential seafood availability, with an average of 15.8% decline under the higher emissions scenario while Skidegate was projected to be the least affected. The effect of fishing scenarios on seafood availability was shown to play a significant role in seafood availability. Under a 'conservation-focused' scenario i.e., fishing level in British Columbia waters is managed at half of the level at maximum sustainable yield (MSY), the model projected 58.5% higher seafood availability to the four coastal First Nations by 2090 relative to 2018, compared to managing at MSY. In contrast, fishing level ativ50% above MSY led to a 55.5% decrease in seafood availability. The study underscores the intricate relationship between climate change, fisheries management, and seafood availability for coastal First Nations in British Columbia. The research suggests a context-based strategy, incorporating First Nations' needs, as necessary foundation for effective climate adaptation and fisheries management.

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Restoration of traditional marine food systems as climate adaptation strategy for coastal First Nations (2023)

Altered ocean conditions caused by climate change are causing shifts in the distribution of marine species. As a result of these biogeographic shifts, coastal Indigenous communities are experiencing significant social, economic, and cultural impacts associated with declines in culturally important species (CIS). There are concerns that this may further exacerbate losses that have occurred due to colonialism. Due to the complexity of the social-ecological systems that have evolved around CIS, it is of vital importance to evaluate the effects on both the social and ecological aspects of the system. This research is the result of a collaborative project with the Haida community of Skidegate which investigates these impacts upon the traditional marine food system and opportunities for building adaptive capacity. A mixed-methods approach was used: 1) analysis of projected relative abundance of CIS within 100 km of Skidegate under two climate scenarios and 2) interviews and a focus group with knowledge holders. Seven functional groups were created based upon the life-history traits of CIS with declines projected in relative abundance for five of the functional groups by 2080 relative to 2000 under both high and low emissions scenarios: clams and cockles, Pacific salmon, Pacific herring, sharks and groundfish. Crustaceans and emerging species (albacore tuna, market squid) were projected to increase representing an opportunity for novel fisheries. Methods of preservation identified in interviews were used as biocultural functional groups with CIS groups classified according to relevant preservation methods to assess the combined social-ecological impacts of changing abundance. Redundancy within biocultural functional groups were then assessed, e.g., declines in Pacific salmon abundance would lead to declines in smoking as this was the only group that was preserved using this method. Additionally, findings from interview and focus group analysis indicate that local adaptation strategies that can be implemented within the existing capacity of the community were prioritized by participants. Many strategies described facilitate the restoration of the Skidegate traditional marine food system signifying that restoration is adaptation. This research is intended to increase the decision-making capacity of Skidegate for fisheries management and illustrates how Indigenous self-determination should be supported within adaptation planning.

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Tracing climate impacts using participatory systems mapping: informing adaptation for a marine food system in the Tla'amin First Nation (2020)

Climate change is altering the physical and biogeochemical properties of the ocean, with implications for the biogeography, phenology, biodiversity and ecosystem functions of marine organisms, as well as for the human societies that depend upon them. Shifting species distributions, among various biological responses to climate change, may exacerbate ongoing challenges to food security, nutritional health and culture for many coastal indigenous First Nation communities. Developing appropriate, nuanced, and context-specific adaptation responses to climate change, however, requires an understanding of how climate-driven ecosystem changes act and interact with other non-climatic factors. Effective adaptation strategies also need to be developed in partnership with community members to identify people’s values, needs, and knowledge of local system dynamics and challenges. Through a collaborative effort with the Tla’amin (ɬəʔamɛn) Nation, this research aims to support the development of adaptation strategies by identifying the perceived mechanisms or pathways through which climate-driven ecosystem changes could affect local seafood access and consumption, and by identifying how these climate effects interact with other factors affecting local seafood availability and access to harvest. This thesis applied a participatory systems mapping approach to co-develop a conceptual model of the key dynamics in the Tla’amin traditional marine food system with Tla’amin Elders, legislators, managers, and community members with expertise in fisheries, traditional food harvest, resource management, and health. I used this model to trace climate stressor-impact pathways and construct a logic-based influence diagram (a modified “fuzzy” cognitive map (FCM)) focusing on the factors affecting food fish harvest. Climate change impacts on the consumption of traditional foods were perceived via both direct and indirect pathways, with reinforcing feedback loops brought about by reduced exposure and experience to traditional foods. Climate effects on local abundance, availability, and safety of fish and shellfish, accompanied by potential consequences for harvest restrictions, were found to compound onto existing constraints to physical and temporal access to the harvest of traditional marine foods. Understanding these multifaceted local climate impacts may help inform future identification and implementation of adaptation strategies for traditional seafood harvest in the face of climate change.

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Adaptability of Pacific North America's small-scale fisheries to climate change (2018)

This thesis compares and contrasts the projected impacts of climate change on small- and large- scale fisheries and seeks to understand key characteristics of their vulnerability and adaptability to climate change using the Pacific North America region, including Alaska, Canada, USA West Coast and Mexico, as a case study. I undertake an interdisciplinary approach and use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to examine the ecological and social-economic dimensions of vulnerabilities, impacts and adaptability of climate change on fisheries. I identify 312 exploited species that are important to small- or large- scale fisheries and apply the Dynamic Bioclimate Envelope Model to project changes in maximum catch potentials and their distributions separately for by small- and large- scale fisheries under the upper (RCP 8.5) and lower (RCP 2.6) greenhouse gas emission scenarios between year 2000 and 2080. Subsequently, I apply a vulnerability assessment framework to three case illustrations from the Pacific North America region: Alaska’s cod fishery (USA), Monterey Bay’s wetfish fishery (USA) and Sonora’s cannonball jellyfish fishery (Mexico) to understand key commonalities and differences that would enable small-scale fisheries and large-scale fisheries to adapt to the climate-induced impacts.The results indicate a projected increase in maximum catch potential for small-scale fisheries (RCP 2.6: +1.7%; RCP 8.5: +16.7%) compared to large-scale fisheries (RCP 2.6: -7.2%; RCP 8.5: -10.7%) across the region by 2080 relative to 2000, with varying patterns between different countries’ waters. The increasing trend in catch potential is contributed by a few exploited species with significant projected gains such as California market squid (Loligo opalescens). The ability of fisheries and fishing communities to adapt to these ecological changes will determine their continued viability. Case illustrations suggest that having lower operational cost, flexibility in gear type, flexible management, clear regulations, strong social capital and well-educated communities tend to relate with lower vulnerability and stronger adaptive capacities to climate change.

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Scenarios for Coastal First Nations' Fisheries under Climate Change: Impacts, Resilience and Adaptation Potential (2014)

Recent studies have demonstrated ways in which climate-related shifts in the distribution and relative abundance of marine species are expected to alter the dynamics and catch potential of global fisheries. While these studies focus on assessing impacts to commercial fisheries, few efforts have been made to quantitatively project impacts to small-scale fisheries that are economically, socially and culturally important to many coastal communities. This study uses a dynamic bioclimate envelope model to project scenarios of climate-related changes in the relative abundance, distribution and richness of 98 exploited marine fishes and invertebrates that are of commercial and cultural importance to First Nations in coastal British Columbia, Canada. Declines in relative abundance are projected for most of the sampled species (n = 84 to 95; x̅ = -15.0% to -20.8%) under both the lower and upper scenarios of climate change, with poleward range shifts occurring at a mean rate of 2.9 and 4.5 kilometres decade-1 for fishes and 2.7 to 3.4 kilometres decade-1 for invertebrates within BC’s exclusive economic zone. While cumulative declines in catch potential are projected to occur coastwide (-4.5 to -10.7%), estimates suggest a strong positive correlation between relative catch potential and latitude, with First Nations’ territories along the north and central coasts experiencing less severe declines than those to the south. Furthermore, a strong negative correlation is projected between latitude and the number of species exhibiting declining abundance. These trends are shown to be robust to alternative species distribution models, and highlight key management challenges that are likely to be encountered under climate change. Drawing from an interdisciplinary literature review of First Nations’ traditional fisheries management strategies and historical responses to changes in the availability of aquatic resources, a scenario-based framework is applied to explore climate-resilient pathways for First Nations’ fisheries given quantitative projections. Findings suggest that joint-management frameworks incorporating First Nations’ traditional ecological knowledge could aid in offsetting impacts and developing site-specific mitigation and adaptation strategies. This interdisciplinary framework thereby facilitates proactive discussions of potential mitigation and adaptation strategies deriving from local fishers’ knowledge that could be used to respond to a range of climate change scenarios.

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