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Warmer waters bring earlier plankton blooms

Long-term study reveals predation dynamics, raises questions about carbon fates

2:16pm, October 20, 2016
researcher scuba diving

GO WITH THE FLOW Data collected by the FlowCytobot, an instrument that can identify and count cells (shown being secured underwater by a researcher), reveal that a kind of phytoplankton grows faster in warmer water, regardless of nutrients or other factors.

Spring brings blooms, and not just on land. Warmer waters spur growth of a tiny ocean-dwelling bacteria. More than 10 years of data collected at an unusually high-tech ocean observatory reveal that the speedy growth of the phytoplankton Synechococcus is driven by an uptick in temperature. As spring’s warmth comes earlier, so does the phytoplankton’s annual growth spurt, resulting in a shift in timing of its “blooms,” the new study shows.


“This is a surprising find,” says marine ecologist François Ribalet of the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the study. Phytoplankton respond to many environmental factors, including the availability of light and nutrients, Ribalet says. “But this work shows that it is just temperature driving the dynamics of the population. As ecologists, we always think things are very complex, but sometimes they are simple.”


The researchers,

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