Effects of environmental conditions on the seasonal distribution of phytoplankton biomass in the North Sea

Llope, M., K. -S. Chan, L. Ciannelli, P. C. Reid, L. C. Stige, N. C. Stenseth

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(2), 2009, 512-524 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.2.0512

ABSTRACT: We study the spatial and seasonal variability of phytoplankton biomass (as phytoplankton color) in relation to the environmental conditions in the North Sea using data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey. By using only environmental fields and location as predictor variables we developed a nonparametric model (generalized additive model) to empirically explore how key environmental factors modulate the spatio-temporal patterns of the seasonal cycle of algal biomass as well as how these relate to the ~1988 North Sea regime shift. Solar radiation, as manifest through changes of sea surface temperature (SST), was a key factor not only in the seasonal cycle but also as a driver of the shift. The pronounced increase in SST and in wind speed after the 1980s resulted in an extension of the season favorable for phytoplankton growth. Nutrients appeared to be unimportant as explanatory variables for the observed spatio-temporal pattern, implying that they were not generally limiting factors. Under the new climatic regime the carrying capacity of the whole system has been increased and the southern North Sea, where the environmental changes have been more pronounced, reached a new maximum.

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