Impact of climate change on marine pelagic phenology and trophic mismatch


Phenology, the study of annually recurring life cycle events such as the timing of migrations and flowering, can provide particularly sensitive indicators of climate change1. Changes in phenology may be important to ecosystem function because the level of response to climate change may vary across functional groups and multiple trophic levels. The decoupling of phenological relationships will have important ramifications for trophic interactions, altering food-web structures and leading to eventual ecosystem-level changes. Temperate marine environments may be particularly vulnerable to these changes because the recruitment success of higher trophic levels is highly dependent on synchronization with pulsed planktonic production2,3. Using long-term data of 66 plankton taxa during the period from 1958 to 2002, we investigated whether climate warming signals4 are emergent across all trophic levels and functional groups within an ecological community. Here we show that not only is the marine pelagic community responding to climate changes, but also that the level of response differs throughout the community and the seasonal cycle, leading to a mismatch between trophic levels and functional groups.

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Figure 1: Changes in phenology throughout the pelagic season.
Figure 2: The relationship between the interannual variation in the timing of the seasonal cycle for various functional groups during the summer stratified period and SST.


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A funding consortium made up of governmental agencies from Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK and the USA financially supports the CPR survey. Main support for this work was provided by UK DEFRA and UK NERC. We would also like to thank J. Bishop, K. Brander, B. Clarke, R. Harris, R. Myers, D. Schoeman and A. Walne for comments on the manuscript and the owners and crews of the ships that tow the CPRs on a voluntary basis.

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Correspondence to Martin Edwards.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Supplementary Figure 1 contains additional information on a species-by-species basis. Individual taxa correlations between the time series of taxa phenology and Sea Surface Temperature are shown in the figure. (PDF 215 kb)

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