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Long-term responses of North Atlantic calcifying plankton to climate change


The global increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is potentially threatening marine biodiversity in two ways. First, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere are causing global warming1. Second, carbon dioxide is altering sea water chemistry, making the ocean more acidic2. Although temperature has a cardinal influence on all biological processes from the molecular to the ecosystem level3, acidification might impair the process of calcification or exacerbate dissolution of calcifying organisms4. Here, we show however that North Atlantic calcifying plankton primarily responded to climate-induced changes in temperatures during the period 1960–2009, overriding the signal from the effects of ocean acidification. We provide evidence that foraminifers, coccolithophores, both pteropod and non-pteropod molluscs and echinoderms exhibited an abrupt shift circa 1996 at a time of a substantial increase in temperature5 and that some taxa exhibited a poleward movement in agreement with expected biogeographical changes under sea temperature warming6,7. Although acidification may become a serious threat to marine calcifying organisms, our results suggest that over the study period the primary driver of North Atlantic calcifying plankton was oceanic temperature.

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Figure 1: Decadal changes (1960–2009) in northeast Atlantic calcifying plankton inferred from standardized PCAs.
Figure 2: Decadal changes in the modelled spatial distribution of calcifying plankton in the northeast Atlantic.
Figure 3: Decadal changes (1960–2009) in North Atlantic calcifying plankton in relation to large-scale hydro-climatological forcing.


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This work was part of the EU-funded FP7 European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) and the regional project BIODIMAR. We thank past and present SAHFOS workers and the international funding consortium supporting the CPR survey. Their dedication has made this unique time-series possible. We also thank J-P. Gattuso for his help with pH and pCO2 data.

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G.B. and A.M-G. conceived the study; G.B., A.M-G. and E.G. compiled the data; G.B. and E.G. analysed the data. G.B., A.M-G., M.E. and E.G. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Gregory Beaugrand.

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Beaugrand, G., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Edwards, M. et al. Long-term responses of North Atlantic calcifying plankton to climate change. Nature Clim Change 3, 263–267 (2013).

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