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Six decades of decline sparks call to protect the foundation of the marine food web - University of Plymouth

The research was led by scientists from the University of Plymouth working with partners across the UK and Europe

The research detailed below has featured in OSPAR’s Quality Status Report 2023.

(image: University of Plymouth)
(image: University of Plymouth)

The decline in plankton abundance in the North East Atlantic over the past six decades should serve as a red flag to policy makers about the need to protect some of the planet’s most critical forms of life, a new study has warned.

Scientists from across western Europe carried out the most comprehensive assessment to date of long-term changes in the region’s plankton communities.

They analysed 24 phytoplankton and zooplankton datasets generated by 15 research institutions to map the 60-year abundance trends for eight planktonic lifeforms.

This included data collected by the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) Survey, which has been operating since 1931 and represents the most geographically extensive marine monitoring programme in the world.

Across the open oceans of the North East Atlantic, where temperatures have increased gradually during the past six decades, most of the lifeforms assessed showed a decrease in abundance.

Dinoflagellates (an important type of phytoplankton), for example, have decreased by around 5% per decade since the 1960s while the quantities of holoplankton (zooplankton that spend their entire lives in the water column) fell by 7% per decade.

By contrast, similar populations in the North Sea – which has undergone major warming, changes in nutrients, and disruption from fisheries – have remained far more stable. Some plankton populations there, and particular in more coastal regions, have even increased in abundance.

Dinoflagellates (an important type of phytoplankton), for example, have decreased by around 5% per decade since the 1960s while the quantities of holoplankton (zooplankton that spend their entire lives in the water column) fell by 7% per decade.

By contrast, similar populations in the North Sea – which has undergone major warming, changes in nutrients, and disruption from fisheries – have remained far more stable. Some plankton populations there, and particular in more coastal regions, have even increased in abundance.

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.


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Posted On: 13/09/2023

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