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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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Observations of the plankton community at Station L4 in the Western English Channel illustrate how environmental change influences variability in plankton populations across trophic levels. Scale bar = 100 µm. Photo: Claire Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Barton AD, González Taboada F, Atkinson A, Widdicombe CE, Stock CA


Integration of temporal environmental variation by the marine plankton community


Low frequency temporal variability is a common feature of marine plankton populations. Using long-term observations of 150 plankton taxa in the English Channel and predator-prey models, Barton and colleagues demonstrated that plankton populations at this location exhibit temporal dynamics that are slightly noisier than ocean conditions (e.g. temperature, nutrients), but contain more low frequency variations than do atmospheric conditions (e.g. surface winds, heat fluxes). Zooplankton taxa exhibit more low frequency variations than phytoplankton taxa, indicating that environmental variability is integrated by food webs to produce greater low frequency variation in higher trophic levels. The character of plankton population dynamics likely arises from extrinsic environmental forcing but also through modest filtering of the environmental noise through the food web.


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