Plankton as prevailing conditions: monitoring climate driven shifts in plankton communities as surveillance indicators for ecosystem based management

Mr Jacob Bedford1, Mr David  Johns2, Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop1

1Plymouth University, Plymouth, United Kingdom, 2Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, United Kingdom

Although the evidence base for climate driven shifts in marine biodiversity is growing, how this information is formally incorporated into marine management and policy frameworks is as yet unclear. At the base of the marine pelagic ecosystem, plankton communities have been documented to ‘shift and shuffle’ in response to climate change. Their short-generation times and sensitivity to their surroundings make them fast-responders to environmental change, and are thus useful indicators to track changing oceanographic conditions in the marine environment. As these plankton changes are due to large scale global drivers, as opposed to localised direct human stressors, these biodiversity changes often fall outside the scope of regional marine policy targets. They are instead, an example of ‘surveillance indicators’- indicators that are not explicitly linked to direct pressures, but can inform on underlying environmental change, providing broad-scale context for marine management. Here we outline a potential ‘diagnostic’ role of plankton indicators within monitoring programmes, which aids in disentangling the drivers of change in marine ecosystem components, and a ‘strategic’ role, which aids in setting appropriate targets and management measures for marine biodiversity in a changing climate.


Jacob’s PhD research focused on the applications of long-term plankton data to marine policy and management, specifically the development on biodiversity indicators for pelagic habitats.

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