Phenological shuffling of major marine phytoplankton groups over the last six decades

TitlePhenological shuffling of major marine phytoplankton groups over the last six decades
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsChivers, WJ, Edwards, M, Hays, GC
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Keywordsclimate change, marine plankton, phytoplankton abundance, phytoplankton phenology, sea surface temperature, spring temperature rise

Abstract Aim Phytoplankton form the basis of the marine food web and are responsible for approximately 50% of the world's photosynthesis. Changes to their ecology are, therefore, important: here, we examined seasonal patterns in ocean phytoplankton abundance for 45 taxa over 59 years collected from circa 410,000 km of line-transect sampling at temperate latitudes. Location The North Sea. Methods For our analysis we used plankton abundance data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey, sea surface temperature measurements from the Hadley Centre, UK Meteorological Office and wind speed data from the International Comprehensive Ocean–Atmosphere Data Set, NOAA. Results We found large differences in changes in the timing of peak abundance between the major phytoplankton groups. Late-summer blooming dinoflagellates (n = 10 taxa) tended to show a large seasonal advancement, the timing of peak abundance for dinoflagellates as group advancing 39 days over these six decades. By contrast diatoms (n = 35) did not show any change as a group in their timing of peak abundance over the time series. Granger causality testing suggested a major driver of these phenological changes has been ocean warming in general but more specifically the rate of spring temperature rise as the most important factor. We also found differences in the timing of peak abundance of harmful algal bloom taxa, with some showing peak abundance earlier while others have moved later. Main conclusions There has been a fundamental transformation of the classic seasonal progression from blooms of diatoms to dinoflagellates, which lies at the heart of temperate marine food chains, as the classic bimodal diatom and dinoflagellate seasonal peaks are eroded to a more continuous, single, longer-lasting phytoplankton peak. This phenological shuffling within and between major taxonomic groups is likely to have profound implications for the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels.