MEPS 236:45-60 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps236045

Changes in the development of the winter-spring phytoplankton bloom in the Bay of Calvi (NW Mediterranean) over the last two decades: a response to changing climate?

Anne Goffart1,*, Jean-Henri Hecq1, Louis Legendre2

1Unité d¹Ecohydrodynamique, Département des Sciences de la Vie, Université de Liège, B 5, 4000 Liège, Belgium
2Laboratoire dŒOcéanographie de Villefranche, BP 28, 06234 Villefranche-sur-Mer Cedex, France

ABSTRACT: The development of the winter-spring phytoplankton bloom was investigated in the Bay of Calvi (Corsica, Ligurian Sea, northwestern Mediterranean) in 1979, 1986, 1988, 1997 and 1998. A drastic reduction of phytoplankton biomass was evidenced over the last 2 decades, in relation to long-term changes in climatic and environmental conditions. Between 1979 and 1998, the monthly averaged chlorophyll a concentrations at 1 m decreased by about 80% during February, March and April. Simultaneously, major changes to hydrodynamic conditions include warmer water, overall decrease of salinity at 10 m depth, longer periods of bright sunshine and lower wind stress. The changes in environmental conditions were large enough to affect the vertical stability of the water column during the winter-spring period and to reduce nutrient replenishment of the surface layer prior to the usual period of phytoplankton growth. Until 1986, the main factor driving nutrient replenishment was the winter upward mixing of nutrient-rich deep waters, while the progressive reduction of mixing from 1988 induced nutrient limitation of surface waters in the last decade. The following hypotheses on changes in the development of the winter-spring phytoplankton bloom are made: (1) Until 1986, phytoplankton peaks took place in relatively high-nutrient waters and were diatom-dominated. (2) Between 1986 and 1988, decreasing Si availability led to Si limitation which caused a reduction in diatom abundance. This resulted in the disappearance of the diatom-dominated pulses and in lower phytoplankton biomass and was accompanied by a shift toward non-siliceous phytoplankton. (3) In 1988, 1997 and 1998, decreasing nitrate availability led to nitrate limitation, thus explaining the progressive reduction in non-siliceous phytoplankton biomass. Other, associated changes in benthos assemblages and ichthyofauna are documented. The conclusions from the Bay of Calvi are extended to the whole western Corsican coast. This confirms that the Mediterranean reacts rapidly to external perturbations, which are driven by climate change in that particular area.

KEY WORDS: Phytoplankton bloom · Mediterranean ecosystem · Climatic change · Environmental change

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