Long-term study reveals predation dynamics, raises questions about carbon fates
Sean Whelan/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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.”