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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 462:21-38 (2012)  -  DOI:

Temporal changes in plankton of the North Sea: community shifts and environmental drivers

Santiago Alvarez-Fernandez*, Han Lindeboom, Erik Meesters

Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies (IMARES), Wageningen University & Research Centre, PO Box 167,
1797SZ ‘t Horntje, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: This paper analyses long-term and seasonal changes in the North Sea plankton community during the period 1970 to 2008. Based on Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) data covering 38 yr, major changes in both phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance and community structure were identified. Regime changes were detected around 1978, 1989 and 1998. The first 2 changes have been discussed in the literature and are defined as a cold episodic event (1978) and a regime shift towards a warm dynamic regime (1989). The effect of these 2 regime changes on plankton indicators was assessed and checked against previous studies. The 1998 change represents a shift in the abundance and seasonal patterns of dinoflagellates and the dominant zooplankton group, the neritic copepods. Furthermore, environmental factors such as air temperature, wind speed and the North Atlantic water inflow were identified as potential drivers of change in seasonal patterns, and the most-likely environmental causes for detected changes were assessed. We suggest that a change in the balance of dissolved nutrients driven by these environmental factors was the cause of the latest change in plankton community structure, which in turn could have affected the North Sea fish community.

KEY WORDS: Seasonal patterns · Regime shift · North Sea · Dinoflagellates · Zooplankton · Nutrients

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Cite this article as: Alvarez-Fernandez S, Lindeboom H, Meesters E (2012) Temporal changes in plankton of the North Sea: community shifts and environmental drivers. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 462:21-38.

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