The breakthrough has enabled the scientists to examine the effects of warming on marine organisms in their natural setting.

Their findings confirm that seawater warming on the sort of scale already experienced during marine "heatwaves" causes major changes in underwater communities - but the scientists were surprised to find how similarly very different groups of organisms, ranging from microbes to sea-squirts and bryozoans, responded to various warming treatments.

The research involved suspending heated panels in coastal water and allowing them to be colonised.

Successfully controlling the seawater temperature around the panels for 40 days, they found that warming of 3°C and 5°C caused major changes in the diversity and abundance of the marine organisms studied.

"This shows how important temperature is in driving the structure of communities, and suggests that temperatures experienced during extreme warming events alter biological diversity in coastal habitats,”  said Dr Dan Smale, Research Fellow at the MBA.

Divernet - The Biggest Online Resource for Scuba Divers