Abiotic drivers of interannual phytoplankton variability and a 1999–2000 regime shift in the North Sea examined by multivariate statistics

The Dutch coastal zone is a region of the North Sea with a marked interannual and long‐term abiotic and phytoplankton variability. To investigate the relationship between abiotic variability and phytoplankton composition, two routine water monitoring data sets (1991–2005) were examined. Multivariate statistics revealed two significant partitions in the data. The first consisted of interannual abiotic fluctuations that were correlated to Rhine discharge that affected the abundance of summer and autumn diatom species. The second partition was caused by a shift in the abiotic data from 1998 to 1999 that was followed by a shift in phytoplankton composition from 1999 to 2000. Important factors in the abiotic shift were decreases in suspended matter (SPM) and phosphate (DIP) concentrations, as well as in pH. The decrease in SPM was caused by a reduction in wind speed. The increase in water column daily irradiance from the decrease in SPM led to increases in the abundance of winter–spring species, notably the prymnesiophyte Phaeocystis globosa. Because wind speed is related to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index it was possible to correlate NAO index and P. globosa abundance. Only five abiotic variables representing interannual and long‐term variability, including Rhine discharge and NAO index, were needed to model the observed partitions in phytoplankton composition. It was concluded that interannual variability in the coastal phytoplankton composition was related to year‐to‐year changes in river discharge while the long‐term shift was caused by an alternating large‐scale meteorological phenomenon.

Peperzak L. & Witte H., in press. Abiotic drivers of interannual phytoplankton variability and a 1999–2000 regime shift in the North Sea examined by multivariate statistics. Journal of Phycology. Article.

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