Cognitive processes and biases influence the way even keen observers of the marine environment attribute the causes of change. A good example of this is in one of the better-documented fingerprints of climate change: the altering geographical distribution of certain marine species – known as range shifts.
As well as the biological and physical changes, range shifts may also have a dramatic effect on the distribution of economic, social, and cultural opportunities. The shifts challenge the capacity of those who use marine resources to adapt to a changing climate as well as the ability of managers to bring adaptation plans into effect. Notably, a reluctance to attribute such shifts to climate change can undermine the effectiveness of climate change communications, posing a potential barrier to successful adaptation.
As attribution is a powerful predictor of behavioural intention, understanding the cognitive processes that underpin marine resource users’ beliefs about the causes of range shifts is an important topic for research.
In this featured paper, Van Putten et al examine how people who use marine resources attribute range shifts experienced in a climate change hotspot in southeast Australia to various climate and non-climate drivers. The researchers find at least three contributing cognitive drivers which help explain this phenomenon. All three play a part in explaining how attribution works and should be considered when planning for stakeholder and management engagement.
Eastern rock lobster