Plankton form the base of marine food webs, making them important indicators of ecosystem status. Changes in the abundance of plankton functional groups, or lifeforms, can affect higher food web levels and indicate important shifts in ecosystem functioning. With our study highlighting major changes over a prolonged period of time, it should provide a red flag to politicians and policymakers about the prioritisation of future management and adaptation measures required to ensure future sustainable use of the ocean.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Marine Conservation Research Group
This study highlights the value of collaborative research at the science policy interface. Research institutes across Europe contributed data for the recent OSPAR assessment of the North-East Atlantic to meet their reporting obligations. Most of this data had never been examined in a combined analysis before. By combining previously separate datasets, we were able to detect important trends and patterns consistent across multiple institutions and territorial waters, which provided the inspiration for this paper.
Associate Professor of Marine Conservation
This study is based on a network of time series from multiple laboratories across the UK and the rest of Europe. It shows worrying declines in some of the key plankton groups, and while the scale of the decline points to large scale climatic warming as the ultimate cause, we still need to understand why some species and regions are changing faster than others.
One of the key messages here is that warming is impacting the plankton. The trends are showing declines in most areas, however some areas are showing increases in certain plankton groups. This demonstrates the importance of having large-scale coverage when monitoring the plankton and combining with a range of different time-series.
- The full study – Holland et al: Major declines in NE Atlantic plankton contrast with more stable populations in the rapidly warming North Sea – is published in Science of the Total Environment, DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.165505.
Read more about our work to assess the effects of climate change on plankton
- Researchers help to highlight the true scale of UK’s nature loss 27 September 2023
- Six decades of decline sparks call to protect the foundation of the marine food web 13 September 2023
- Innovative plankton monitoring tool holds key to assessing health of ocean life 7 December 2021
- Climate change has degraded productivity of shelf sea food webs 8 June 2020
- Study shows six decades of change in UK’s plankton communities 2 April 2020