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Changes in marine dinoflagellate and diatom abundance under climate change



Marine diatoms and dinoflagellates play a variety of key ecosystem roles as important primary producers (diatoms and some dinoflagellates) and grazers (some dinoflagellates). Additionally some are harmful algal bloom (HAB) species and there is widespread concern that HAB species may be increasing accompanied by major negative socio-economic impacts, including threats to human health and marine harvesting1,2. Using 92,263 samples from the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey, we generated a 50-year (1960–2009) time series of diatom and dinoflagellate occurrence in the northeast Atlantic and North Sea. Dinoflagellates, including both HAB taxa (for example, Prorocentrum spp.) and non-HAB taxa (for example, Ceratium furca), have declined in abundance, particularly since 2006. In contrast, diatom abundance has not shown this decline with some common diatoms, including both HAB (for example, Pseudo-nitzschia spp.) and non-HAB (for example, Thalassiosira spp.) taxa, increasing in abundance. Overall these changes have led to a marked increase in the relative abundance of diatoms versus dinoflagellates. Our analyses, including Granger tests to identify criteria of causality, indicate that this switch is driven by an interaction effect of both increasing sea surface temperatures combined with increasingly windy conditions in summer.

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Figure 1: Abundance of dinoflagellates and diatoms in the northeast Atlantic region from 1960 to 2009 based on twelve diatom taxa and nine dinoflagellate taxa routinely identified in the CPR samples.
Figure 2: Abundance of selected taxa in the northeast Atlantic region to illustrate the shift from dinoflagellates to diatoms during the past 50 years.
Figure 3: Decadal spatio-temporal changes in abundances of selected dinoflagellates and diatoms in the northeast Atlantic.


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A funding consortium made up of governmental agencies from Canada, France, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK and the US financially supports the CPR survey. G.C.H. was supported by the Climate Change Consortium for Wales (C3W). S.L.H. was financially supported by a NERC doctoral training grant (NE/G524344/1) awarded to M.B.G. and G.C.H.

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G.C.H. and M.B.G. conceived the study; S.L.H. and A.W.W. compiled the data; S.L.H., M.B.G. and G.C.H. led the data analyses and interpretation with contributions from all authors. S.L.H. and G.C.H. wrote the paper with contributions from all authors.

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Correspondence to Graeme C. Hays.

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Hinder, S., Hays, G., Edwards, M. et al. Changes in marine dinoflagellate and diatom abundance under climate change. Nature Clim Change 2, 271–275 (2012).

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