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A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment

Capuzzo, Elisa; Lynam, Christopher P.; Barry, Jon; Stephens, David; Forster, Rodney M.; Greenwood, Naomi; McQuatters-Gollop, Abigail; Silva, Tiago; van Leeuwen, Sonja M.; Engelhard, Georg H.


Elisa Capuzzo

Christopher P. Lynam

Jon Barry

David Stephens

Naomi Greenwood

Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Tiago Silva

Sonja M. van Leeuwen

Georg H. Engelhard


Phytoplankton primary production is at the base of the marine food web; changes in primary production have direct or indirect effects on higher trophic levels, from zooplankton organisms to marine mammals and seabirds. Here, we present a new time-series on gross primary production in the North Sea, from 1988 to 2013, estimated using in situ measurements of chlorophyll and underwater light. This shows that recent decades have seen a significant decline in primary production in the North Sea. Moreover, primary production differs in magnitude between six hydrodynamic regions within the North Sea. Sea surface warming and reduced riverine nutrient inputs are found to be likely contributors to the declining levels of primary production. In turn, significant correlations are found between observed changes in primary production and the dynamics of higher trophic levels including (small) copepods and a standardized index of fish recruitment, averaged over seven stocks of high commercial significance in the North Sea. Given positive (bottom-up) associations between primary production, zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment, this study provides strong evidence that if the decline in primary production continues, knock-on effects upon the productivity of fisheries are to be expected unless these fisheries are managed effectively and cautiously.


Capuzzo, E., Lynam, C. P., Barry, J., Stephens, D., Forster, R. M., Greenwood, N., …Engelhard, G. H. (2018). A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment. Global change biology, 24(1), e352-e364.

Acceptance Date Aug 29, 2017
Online Publication Date Sep 25, 2017
Publication Date 2018-01
Deposit Date Mar 5, 2018
Publicly Available Date Mar 6, 2018
Journal Global Change Biology
Print ISSN 1354-1013
Electronic ISSN 1365-2486
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 1
Pages e352-e364
Keywords Bottom-up effects; Climate change; Fish recruitment; North Sea; Nutrients; Phytoplankton; Primary production
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©2017 The Authors. Global Change Biology Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.<br /> <br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

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