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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 534:251-272 (2015)  -  DOI:

Patterns and ecological implications of historical marine phytoplankton change

Daniel G. Boyce1,2,*, Boris Worm3

1Department of Biology, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada
2Ocean Sciences Division, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada
3Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: There is growing evidence that average global phytoplankton concentrations have been changing over the past century, yet published trajectories of change are highly divergent. Here, we review and analyze 115 published phytoplankton trend estimates originating from a wide variety of sampling instruments to explore the underlying patterns and ecological implications of phytoplankton change over the period of oceanographic measurement (1889 to 2010). We found that published estimates of phytoplankton change were much less variable when estimated over longer time series and consistent spatial scales and from the same sampling instruments. Average phytoplankton concentrations tended to increase over time in near-shore waters and over more recent time periods and declined in the open oceans and over longer time periods. Most published evidence suggests changes in temperature and nutrient supply rates as leading causes of these phytoplankton trends. In near-shore waters, altered coastal runoff and increased nutrient flux from land may primarily explain widespread increases in phytoplankton there. Conversely, in the open oceans, increasing surface temperatures are strengthening water column stratification, reducing nutrient flux from deeper waters and negatively influencing phytoplankton. Phytoplankton change is further affected by biological processes, such as changes in grazing regimes and nutrient cycling, but these effects are less well studied at large scales. The possible ecosystem consequences of observed phytoplankton changes include altered species composition and abundance across multiple trophic levels, effects on fisheries yield, and changing patterns of export production. We conclude that there is evidence for substantial changes in phytoplankton concentration over the past century, but the magnitude of these changes remains uncertain at a global scale; standardized long-term measurements of phytoplankton abundance over time can substantially reduce this uncertainty.

KEY WORDS: Phytoplankton · Marine · Trend · Drivers · Consequences · Global · Change · Ecological

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Cite this article as: Boyce DG, Worm B (2015) Patterns and ecological implications of historical marine phytoplankton change. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 534:251-272.

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