Climate-induced effects on the meroplankton and the benthic-pelagic ecology of the North Sea

Kirby, Richard R., Gregory Beaugrand, John A. Lindley

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(5), 2008, 1805-1815 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.5.1805

ABSTRACT: Analyses of long-term time series of North Sea plankton and sea surface temperature (SST) data reveal that the annual planktonic larval abundance of three benthic phyla, Echinodermata, Arthropoda, and Mollusca, responds positively and immediately to SST. Long-term outcomes for the planktonic abundance of these three phyla are different, however. The planktonic larvae of echinoderms and decapod crustaceans have increased in abundance from 1958 to 2005, and especially since the mid-1980s, as North Sea SST has increased. In contrast, the abundance of bivalve mollusc larvae has declined, despite the positive year-to-year relationship between temperature and bivalve larval abundance continuing to hold. We argue that the changes in meroplankton abundance, coincident with increased phytoplankton and declining holoplankton, reflect the synchronous effect of rising SST and related changes in the pelagic community on the reproduction and recruitment of many benthic marine invertebrates. Under this scenario, the long-term decline in bivalve mollusc larvae will reflect increased predation on the settled larvae and adults by benthic decapods. These alterations in the zooplankton may therefore describe an ecosystem-wide restructuring of North Sea trophic interactions.

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