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Concept: Plankton


Using a whole-watershed approach and a combination of historical, contemporary, modeled and paleolimnological datasets, we show that the High Arctic’s largest lake by volume (Lake Hazen) has succumbed to climate warming with only a ~1 °C relative increase in summer air temperatures. This warming deepened the soil active layer and triggered large mass losses from the watershed’s glaciers, resulting in a ~10 times increase in delivery of glacial meltwaters, sediment, organic carbon and legacy contaminants to Lake Hazen, a >70% decrease in lake water residence time, and near certainty of summer ice-free conditions. Concomitantly, the community assemblage of diatom primary producers in the lake shifted dramatically with declining ice cover, from shoreline benthic to open-water planktonic species, and the physiological condition of the only fish species in the lake, Arctic Char, declined significantly. Collectively, these changes place Lake Hazen in a biogeochemical, limnological and ecological regime unprecedented within the past ~300 years.

Concepts: Biology, Water, Lake, Ice, Soil, Plankton, Arctic char, Lake Hazen


In extreme high-latitude marine environments that are without solar illumination in winter, light-mediated patterns of biological migration have historically been considered non-existent [1]. However, diel vertical migration (DVM) of zooplankton has been shown to occur even during the darkest part of the polar night, when illumination levels are exceptionally low [2, 3]. This paradox is, as yet, unexplained. Here, we present evidence of an unexpected uniform behavior across the entire Arctic, in fjord, shelf, slope and open sea, where vertical migrations of zooplankton are driven by lunar illumination. A shift from solar-day (24-hr period) to lunar-day (24.8-hr period) vertical migration takes place in winter when the moon rises above the horizon. Further, mass sinking of zooplankton from the surface waters and accumulation at a depth of ∼50 m occurs every 29.5 days in winter, coincident with the periods of full moon. Moonlight may enable predation of zooplankton by carnivorous zooplankters, fish, and birds now known to feed during the polar night [4]. Although primary production is almost nil at this time, lunar vertical migration (LVM) may facilitate monthly pulses of carbon remineralization, as they occur continuously in illuminated mesopelagic systems [5], due to community respiration of carnivorous and detritivorous zooplankton. The extent of LVM during the winter suggests that the behavior is highly conserved and adaptive and therefore needs to be considered as “baseline” zooplankton activity in a changing Arctic ocean [6-9]. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Moon, Arctic Ocean, Marine biology, Zooplankton, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Svalbard, Diel vertical migration


The emulsification of oil at the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) well head relegated a large proportion of resultant hydrocarbon plumes to the deep sea, facilitated the incorporation of oil droplets into microbial and planktonic food web, and limited the severity of direct, wetland oiling to coastal Louisiana. Nevertheless, many transient fish and invertebrate species rely on offshore surface waters for egg and larval transport before settling in coastal habitats, thereby potentially impacting the recruitment of transient species to coastal nursery habitats quite distant from the well site. We compared the utilization of salt-marsh habitats by transient and resident nekton before and after the DWH accident using data obtained from an oyster reef restoration project in coastal Alabama. Our sampling activities began in the summer preceding the DWH spill and continued almost two years following the accident. Overall, we did not find significant differences in the recruitment of marsh-associated resident and transient nekton in coastal Alabama following the DWH accident. Our results, therefore, provide little evidence for severe acute or persistent oil-induced impacts on organisms that complete their life cycle within the estuary and those that spent portions of their life history in potentially contaminated offshore surface waters prior to their recruitment to nearshore habitats. Our negative findings are consistent with other assessments of nekton in coastal vegetated habitats and bolster the notion that, despite the presence of localized hydrocarbon enrichments in coastal habitats outside of Louisiana the most severe oil impacts were relegated to coastal Louisiana and the deep sea. Analyzing all the information learned from this accident will undoubtedly provide a synthesis of what has or has not been affected in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which when put in context with oil spill studies elsewhere should improve our ability to avert and manage the negative consequences of such accidents.

Concepts: Water, Petroleum, Marsh, Liquid, Invertebrate, Gulf of Mexico, Oil, Plankton


Biological clocks are a ubiquitous ancient and adaptive mechanism enabling organisms to anticipate environmental cycles and to regulate behavioral and physiological processes accordingly [1]. Although terrestrial circadian clocks are well understood, knowledge of clocks in marine organisms is still very limited [2-5]. This is particularly true for abundant species displaying large-scale rhythms like diel vertical migration (DVM) that contribute significantly to shaping their respective ecosystems [6]. Here we describe exogenous cycles and endogenous rhythms associated with DVM of the ecologically important and highly abundant planktic copepod Calanus finmarchicus. In the laboratory, C. finmarchicus shows circadian rhythms of DVM, metabolism, and most core circadian clock genes (clock, period1, period2, timeless, cryptochrome2, and clockwork orange). Most of these genes also cycle in animals assessed in the wild, though expression is less rhythmic at depth (50-140 m) relative to shallow-caught animals (0-50 m). Further, peak expressions of clock genes generally occurred at either sunset or sunrise, coinciding with peak migration times. Including one of the first field investigations of clock genes in a marine species [5, 7], this study couples clock gene measurements with laboratory and field data on DVM. While the mechanistic connection remains elusive, our results imply a high degree of causality between clock gene expression and one of the planet’s largest daily migrations of biomass. We thus suggest that circadian clocks increase zooplankton fitness by optimizing the temporal trade-off between feeding and predator avoidance, especially when environmental drivers are weak or absent [8].

Concepts: Gene, Biology, Organism, Circadian rhythm, Period, ARNTL, Zooplankton, Plankton


As anthropogenic CO2 emissions acidify the oceans, calcifiers generally are expected to be negatively affected. However, using data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder, we show that coccolithophore occurrence in the North Atlantic increased from ~2 to over 20% from 1965 through 2010. We used Random Forest models to examine >20 possible environmental drivers of this change, finding that CO2 and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation were the best predictors, leading us to hypothesize that higher CO2 levels might be encouraging growth. A compilation of 41 independent laboratory studies supports our hypothesis. Our study shows a long-term basin-scale increase in coccolithophores and suggests that increasing CO2 and temperature have accelerated the growth of a phytoplankton group that is important for carbon cycling.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Coccolithophore, Phytoplankton, Global warming, Plankton, Ocean acidification


Large, actively swimming suspension feeders evolved several times in Earth’s history, arising independently from groups as diverse as sharks, rays and stem teleost fishes, and in mysticete whales. However, animals occupying this niche have not been identified from the early Palaeozoic era. Anomalocarids, a group of stem arthropods that were the largest nektonic animals of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, are generally thought to have been apex predators. Here we describe new material from Tamisiocaris borealis, an anomalocarid from the Early Cambrian (Series 2) Sirius Passet Fauna of North Greenland, and propose that its frontal appendage is specialized for suspension feeding. The appendage bears long, slender and equally spaced ventral spines furnished with dense rows of long and fine auxiliary spines. This suggests that T. borealis was a microphagous suspension feeder, using its appendages for sweep-net capture of food items down to 0.5 mm, within the size range of mesozooplankton such as copepods. Our observations demonstrate that large, nektonic suspension feeders first evolved during the Cambrian explosion, as part of an adaptive radiation of anomalocarids. The presence of nektonic suspension feeders in the Early Cambrian, together with evidence for a diverse pelagic community containing phytoplankton and mesozooplankton, indicate the existence of a complex pelagic ecosystem supported by high primary productivity and nutrient flux. Cambrian pelagic ecosystems seem to have been more modern than previously believed.

Concepts: Evolution, Animal, Cambrian explosion, Zooplankton, Plankton, Ordovician, Cambrian, Paleozoic


Small plastic detritus, termed ‘microplastics’, are a widespread and ubiquitous contaminant of marine ecosystems across the globe. Ingestion of microplastics by marine biota, including mussels, worms, fish and seabirds, has been widely reported, but despite their vital ecological role in marine food-webs, the impact of microplastics on zooplankton remains under-researched. Here, we show that microplastics are ingested by, and may impact upon, zooplankton. We used bio-imaging techniques to document ingestion, egestion and adherence of microplastics in a range of zooplankton common to the northeast Atlantic, and employed feeding rate studies to determine the impact of plastic detritus on algal ingestion rates in copepods. Using fluorescence and coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) microscopy we identified that thirteen zooplankton taxa had the capacity to ingest 1.7 - 30.6 µm polystyrene beads, with uptake varying by taxa, life-stage and bead-size. Post-ingestion, copepods egested faecal pellets laden with microplastics. We further observed microplastics adhered to the external carapace and appendages of exposed zooplankton. Exposure of the copepod Centropages typicus to natural assemblages of algae with and without microplastics showed that 7.3 µm microplastics (>4000 ml-1) significantly decreased algal feeding. Our findings imply that marine microplastic debris can negatively impact upon zooplankton function and health.

Concepts: Ecology, Eating, Ingestion, Coprophagia, Crustacean, Raman spectroscopy, Plankton, Copepod


Phytoplankton blooms over Arctic Ocean continental shelves are thought to be restricted to waters free of sea ice. Here, we document a massive phytoplankton bloom beneath fully consolidated pack ice far from the ice edge in the Chukchi Sea, where light transmission has increased in recent decades because of thinning ice cover and proliferation of melt ponds. The bloom was characterized by high diatom biomass and rates of growth and primary production. Evidence suggests that under-ice phytoplankton blooms may be more widespread over nutrient-rich Arctic continental shelves and that satellite-based estimates of annual primary production in these waters may be underestimated by up to 10-fold.

Concepts: Canada, Phytoplankton, Arctic Ocean, Plankton, Arctic Circle, Sea ice, Wrangel Island, Bering Strait


Planktonic microbial communities in the ocean are typically dominated by several cosmopolitan clades of Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya characterized by their ribosomal RNA gene phylogenies and genomic features. Although the environments these communities inhabit range from coastal to open ocean waters, how the biological dynamics vary between such disparate habitats is not well known. To gain insight into the differential activities of microbial populations inhabiting different oceanic provinces we compared the daily metatranscriptome profiles of related microbial populations inhabiting surface waters of both a coastal California upwelling region (CC) as well as the oligotrophic North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG). Transcriptional networks revealed that the dominant photoautotrophic microbes in each environment (Ostreococcus in CC, Prochlorococcus in NPSG) were central determinants of overall community transcriptome dynamics. Furthermore, heterotrophic bacterial clades common to both ecosystems (SAR11, SAR116, SAR86, SAR406, and Roseobacter) displayed conserved, genome-wide inter- and intrataxon transcriptional patterns and diel cycles. Populations of SAR11 and SAR86 clades in particular exhibited tightly coordinated transcriptional patterns in both coastal and pelagic ecosystems, suggesting that specific biological interactions between these groups are widespread in nature. Our results identify common diurnally oscillating behaviors among diverse planktonic microbial species regardless of habitat, suggesting that highly conserved temporally phased biotic interactions are ubiquitous among planktonic microbial communities worldwide.

Concepts: Gene, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, RNA, Microorganism, Ocean, Plankton


Rising anthropogenic CO2 emissions are anticipated to drive change to ocean ecosystems, but a conceptualization of biological change derived from quantitative analyses is lacking. Derived from multiple ecosystems and latitudes, our metaanalysis of 632 published experiments quantified the direction and magnitude of ecological change resulting from ocean acidification and warming to conceptualize broadly based change. Primary production by temperate noncalcifying plankton increases with elevated temperature and CO2, whereas tropical plankton decreases productivity because of acidification. Temperature increases consumption by and metabolic rates of herbivores, but this response does not translate into greater secondary production, which instead decreases with acidification in calcifying and noncalcifying species. This effect creates a mismatch with carnivores whose metabolic and foraging costs increase with temperature. Species diversity and abundances of tropical as well as temperate species decline with acidification, with shifts favoring novel community compositions dominated by noncalcifiers and microorganisms. Both warming and acidification instigate reduced calcification in tropical and temperate reef-building species. Acidification leads to a decline in dimethylsulfide production by ocean plankton, which as a climate gas, contributes to cloud formation and maintenance of the Earth’s heat budget. Analysis of responses in short- and long-term experiments and of studies at natural CO2 vents reveals little evidence of acclimation to acidification or temperature changes, except for microbes. This conceptualization of change across whole communities and their trophic linkages forecast a reduction in diversity and abundances of various key species that underpin current functioning of marine ecosystems.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Biodiversity, Ecology, Climate, Ecosystem, Microorganism, Global warming, Plankton