Project Description: Sentinels of Change: Phenology of Zooplankton Communities and their Potential as Ecosystem Indicators in the Central California Current

Summary

Upwelling systems, such as the California Current, are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, covering less than 2% of ocean surface area yet accounting for 20% of global fish catch. The productivity of the California Current region is tied to physical processes driven by climate. Changes in the climate system affect the abundance of organisms at the base of the food web, and can lead to dramatic impacts on higher trophic level organisms such as whales, seabirds, and fish. Zooplankton - microscopic animals that are abundant in the California Current - are critical links between the physical processes in the ocean and higher trophic level animals, making them sentinels of change within the California Current. In order to understand the impacts a changing ocean will have on fisheries species, we need to study the responses of lower trophic level organisms. Such efforts are underway in the Northern California Current and have contributed substantially to knowledge about fisheries productivity and management, yet are a critical research gap in Central California. PI Nickols has established a new time series of lower trophic organisms (zooplankton) and environmental conditions off the coast of the Monterey Peninsula in the Central California Current.

Student Involvement

To date, four undergraduate students and one AMWS graduate student have contributed to data collection. During Fall 2016, one undergraduate and one graduate student will develop protocols fro data analysis and PI Nickols will integrate this project into MSCI 270 Intro to Oceans, a lower division course required of all MSCI majors.

Broader Significance

We are missing potential signals of ecosystem change in the central California Current ecosystem. The sampling frequency by other groups in this region does not allow for appropriate resolution to link physical processes to fisheries. High frequency (2-4 weeks) sampling in this region done through this project fulfills a critical research gap and also informs ecosystem health. Zooplankton are key moderators of energy transfer to higher trophic levels and this research project will allow us to predict ecosystem impacts of a changing ocean on higher trophic levels.

IfAME PI

Dr. Kerry Nickols

Financial Support

CSU Monterey Bay Faculty Incentive Grant

Field Support

CSUMB R/V VenTresca, R/V Kelpfly, R/V MacGinitie

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