Monitoring changes in North Atlantic plankton communities
The North Atlantic is the largest oceanic water mass associated with Europe and thus a key area for the EUR-OCEANS network. The outcome of many nationally-funded research programmes over the last decade had been the realisation that human impacts (e.g. climate change, species introductions) apply across the North Atlantic basin, thus requiring the cohesive and coordinated research promoted by EUR-OCEANS. This Fact Sheet introduces some of the conclusions regarding possible human induced changes in the North East Atlantic planktonic communities over the last 50 years. These conclusions are based on long-term plankton records which are valuable for documenting ecosystem changes, for helping to separate natural and anthropogenic changes, and for generating and analyzing testable hypotheses. Over the last decade, interest in long-term plankton sampling has increased. However, long timeseries are still uncommon. The purpose of long-term monitoring is to establish a baseline for the various components of the ecosystem, and how they interact. Information can be used to:
- distinguish between the effects of human activities and natural variability
- define baselines and estimate the recovery time of the system after human or environmental perturbations
- develop hypotheses about causal relationships which can then be investigated
- verify and validate models used to predict changes in marine ecosystems on the basis of climate scenarios, and
- evaluate management actions.
Long-term variations in plankton abundance in the North Atlantic ecosystem have been investigated by the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey since 1946 as well as at several fixed coastal monitoring stations.