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Physiological and ecological drivers of early spring blooms of a coastal phytoplankter

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, pp. 326-329
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8536

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  • The Importance of Monitoring Earth’s Largest Ecosystem
    • Susanne Neuer, Professor, Arizona State University
    • Other Contributors:
      • Heather Benway, Research Specialist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
      • Nicholas Bates, Senior Scientist and Director of Research, Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences
      • Craig Carlson, Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
      • Matthew Church, Associate Professor, University of Montana
      • Michael DeGrandpre, Professor, University of Montana
      • John Dunne, Research Oceanographer, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
      • Ricardo Letelier, Professor, Oregon State University
      • Michael Lomas, Senior Research Scientist, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
      • Laura Lorenzoni, Research Associate, University of South Florida
      • Frank Muller-Karger, Professor, University of South Florida
      • Mary Jane Perry, Professor, University of Maine
      • Paul Quay, Professor, University of Washington

    Phytoplankton not only form the base of the aquatic food web, but these microscopic primary producers also generate much of the oxygen required to support life on Earth. Warming and other climate-related changes affect ocean chemistry and marine organisms such as phytoplankton that play a vital role in the cycling of elements like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. A recent study published in Science (1), reporting data from an ocean time-series in New England coastal waters, shows that spring phytoplankton blooms now occur earlier in response to warmer water temperatures. Such climate-driven shifts in bloom phenology affect the function of marine food webs and ultimately the ocean’s capacity to sequester carbon.

    Since many of Earth’s natural rhythms operate on interannual to decadal time scales, time-series must ideally be sustained for multiple decades to statistically distinguish anthropogenic changes from natural variability (2). But financial commitments required to maintain ocean time-series limits the number of sites where these critically important observations are made. Yet, long time-series have revealed striking changes in marine ecosystems, including: Trends of increasing ocean acidity as a consequence of rising atmospheric CO2 (3); changes in the biogeography of major phytoplankton species in response to changing ocean conditions and circulation (4); and changes in commercial fisheries and associated food webs tied to anthropogenic changes and natural climat...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.