Developing pelagic biodiversity indicators for ecosystem-based management

Europe is implementing ecosystem-based management (EBM) of its seas. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is instrumental to delivering EBM, and requires that European marine habitats and species achieve Good Environmental Status for their biodiversity and food webs. The Plankton Index, a trait-based, indicator of change in plankton functional groups, allows the use of plankton data from multiple monitoring surveys with disparate methods of sample collection and plankton identification. Because the Plankton Index (PI) is based on time-series datasets, changes in the PI reflect multiple stressors on pelagic communities across spatial and temporal scales, such as natural variability, temperature increases, and changes in nutrient concentrations. The challenge, however, lies in separating these signals so that change in the PI can most effectively inform management measures. The first regional application of this approach in Northeast Atlantic (OSPAR) waters revealed that plankton communities underwent broad spatially-consistent, but significant, changes in plankton functional groups during the past decade. These results directly informed national and regional management efforts towards ecosystem-based management through an integrated assessment for the Northeast Atlantic. Assessing pelagic biodiversity change using a common indicator at the Northeast Atlantic scale for the first time is a significant step towards quantitatively evaluating Good Environmental Status for regional seas.

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McQuatters-Gollop, A., Atkinson, A., Aubert, A., Bedford, J., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Cook, K., Devlin, M., Gowen, R., Johns, D.G., Machairopoulou, M., Mellor, A., Ostle, C., Scherer, C. and Tett, P., (2019). Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy. Ecological Indicators, 101: 913-925.

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