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Is there a decline in marine phytoplankton?


Arising from D. G. Boyce, M. R. Lewis & B. Worm Nature 466, 591–596 (2010)10.1038/nature09268; Boyce et al. reply

Phytoplankton account for approximately 50% of global primary production, form the trophic base of nearly all marine ecosystems, are fundamental in trophic energy transfer and have key roles in climate regulation, carbon sequestration and oxygen production. Boyce et al.1 compiled a chlorophyll index by combining in situ chlorophyll and Secchi disk depth measurements that spanned a more than 100-year time period and showed a decrease in marine phytoplankton biomass of approximately 1% of the global median per year over the past century. Eight decades of data on phytoplankton biomass collected in the North Atlantic by the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey2, however, show an increase in an index of chlorophyll (Phytoplankton Colour Index) in both the Northeast and Northwest Atlantic basins3,4,5,6,7 (Fig. 1), and other long-term time series, including the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT)8, the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series (BATS)8 and the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI)9 also indicate increased phytoplankton biomass over the last 20–50 years. These findings, which were not discussed by Boyce et al.1, are not in accordance with their conclusions and illustrate the importance of using consistent observations when estimating long-term trends.

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Figure 1: Results from the CPR survey show increased phytoplankton in most regions of the North Atlantic.


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Correspondence to Abigail McQuatters-Gollop.

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McQuatters-Gollop, A., Reid, P., Edwards, M. et al. Is there a decline in marine phytoplankton?. Nature 472, E6–E7 (2011).

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