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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13515

Interannual stability of phytoplankton community composition in the North-East Atlantic

Stephanie Allen*, Stephanie Henson, Anna Hickman, Claudie Beaulieu, Patrick C. Doncaster, David G. Johns

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As primary producers, phytoplankton play a pivotal role in the marine environment and are central to many biogeochemical processes. Changes to phytoplankton community composition could have major consequences for wider ecosystem functioning and may occur in response to climate change. Here we describe multi-decadal variability in phytoplankton community structure using taxonomic data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder collected in the North-East Atlantic from 1969 to 2013, using a total of 42 diatom and dinoflagellate taxa. We consider a range of characteristics of community structure, including taxonomic diversity and community stability and disorder, and how these characteristics change in response to sea surface temperature, mixed layer depth and the North Atlantic Oscillation. We find that the phytoplankton community composition was largely stable on interannual timescales. A change in the community composition occurred between 1985 and 1995 due to an increased dominance of two diatom taxa (Rhizosolenia styliformis and Thalassiosira spp.), however after this period the community returned to its previous composition. Further, a community disorder analysis found that phytoplankton compositional structure became more rigid in recent years, which may lead to an eventual community shift in the future. In contrast to previous studies that reveal relationships between total phytoplankton abundance or biomass and environmental forcing, we find that the community structure has, at most, a very weak relationship with the environmental parameters tested. Changes to the physical environment may therefore have less influence at interannual timescales on phytoplankton community structure than previously thought.