Articles | Volume 11, issue 24
Research article
16 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 16 Dec 2014

Drivers of trophic amplification of ocean productivity trends in a changing climate

C. A. Stock, J. P. Dunne, and J. G. John

Abstract. Pronounced projected 21st century trends in regional oceanic net primary production (NPP) raise the prospect of significant redistributions of marine resources. Recent results further suggest that NPP changes may be amplified at higher trophic levels. Here, we elucidate the role of planktonic food web dynamics in driving projected changes in mesozooplankton production (MESOZP) found to be, on average, twice as large as projected changes in NPP by the latter half of the 21st century under a high emissions scenario in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's ESM2M–COBALT (Carbon, Ocean Biogeochemistry and Lower Trophics) earth system model. Globally, MESOZP was projected to decline by 7.9% but regional MESOZP changes sometimes exceeded 50%. Changes in three planktonic food web properties – zooplankton growth efficiency (ZGE), the trophic level of mesozooplankton (MESOTL), and the fraction of NPP consumed by zooplankton (zooplankton–phytoplankton coupling, ZPC), explain the projected amplification. Zooplankton growth efficiencies (ZGE) changed with NPP, amplifying both NPP increases and decreases. Negative amplification (i.e., exacerbation) of projected subtropical NPP declines via this mechanism was particularly strong since consumers in the subtropics have limited surplus energy above basal metabolic costs. Increased mesozooplankton trophic level (MESOTL) resulted from projected declines in large phytoplankton production. This further amplified negative subtropical NPP declines but was secondary to ZGE and, at higher latitudes, was often offset by increased ZPC. Marked ZPC increases were projected for high-latitude regions experiencing shoaling of deep winter mixing or decreased winter sea ice – both tending to increase winter zooplankton biomass and enhance grazer control of spring blooms. Increased ZPC amplified projected NPP increases in the Arctic and damped projected NPP declines in the northwestern Atlantic and Southern Ocean. Improved understanding of the physical and biological interactions governing ZGE, MESOTL and ZPC is needed to further refine estimates of climate-driven productivity changes across trophic levels.

Short summary
Climate change projections suggest large regional ocean productivity shifts for mesozooplankton, an important food resource for fish, which are amplified relative to changes in phytoplankton production. Amplification is attributed to changes in planktonic food web dynamics under global warming. Results have implications for regional economies and food security. Improved understanding of the response of plankton food webs to climate change is essential to refine amplification estimates.
Final-revised paper