Long-term changes in abundance and distribution of microzooplankton in the NE Atlantic and North Sea

Stephanie Hinder, Jane Manning, Mike Gravenor, Martin Edwards, Anthony Walne, Peter Burkill, and Graeme Hays

Long-term changes in mesozooplankton and phytoplankton populations have been well documented in the North Atlantic region, whereas data for microzooplankton are scarce. This neglected component of the plankton is a vital link in marine food-webs, grazing on smaller flagellates and cyanobacteria and in turn providing food for the larger mesozooplankton. We use the latest tintinnid (Ciliophora, Protista) data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey in the NE Atlantic and North Sea to examine the phenology, distribution and abundance of this important group of ciliates. Presence/absence data came from 167 122 CPR samples collected between 1960 and 2009 and abundance data from 49 662 samples collected between 1996 and 2009.

In the North Atlantic the genus Dictyocysta spp. dominated and Parafavella gigantea showed an increase in abundance around Iceland and Greenland. In the North Sea higher densities of Tintinnopsis spp., Favella serrata and Ptychocylis spp. were found.

The presence of tintinnids in CPR samples collected in the North Atlantic has increased over the last 50 years and the seasonal window of high abundance has lengthened. Conversely in the North Sea there has been an overall reduction in abundance. We discuss possible drivers for these long-term changes and point the way forward to more holistic studies that examine how ecosystems, rather than just selected taxa, are responding to climate change.

The results of this finding have recently been published online in the Journal of Plankton Research and can be found at  http://plankt.oxfordjournals.org/content/34/1/83.abstract#aff-1