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article imageTara Oceans mission reveals variations in plankton biodiversity

By Tim Sandle     Dec 2, 2019 in Environment
The Tara Oceans expedition shows the extent to which plankton in the oceans are affected by climate change. The findings not only help with climate change modelling, they inform about the fragility of the marine food chain.
The mission has found that the diversity and functions of planktonic species in the global ocean change dramatically according to latitude, using data drawn from the 2009-2013 Tara Oceans expedition. The Tara Ocean Foundation is the first public interest foundation in France dedicated to the ocean.
The data will help to provide scientists with a solid baseline for describing plankton variety, plus the interactions between these microscopic ocean organisms with tropical and temperate ocean regions.
For an improved insight, Tara Oceans researchers have incorporated additional data gathered from the Polar Circle circumnavigation, which takes the form of planetary-scale sequencing and imaging data.
The combination of the two data sets demonstrates that planktonic species are distributed unevenly. Furthermore, the plankton appear to adjust differently to environmental conditions between the equator and the poles. Such findings carry important ecological, environmental and economic implications, in terms of assessing increases in ocean temperature.
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Understanding the patterns of plankton is important since the ocean creatures form the basis of the marine food chain, plus they play a role in environmental control, capturing a large fraction of atmospheric carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis.
As set out in the report “Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”, the research can be placed in the wider context of climate change and marine biodiversity. This will help scientists and government leaders to find sustainability solutions on both local to global scales to address climate change.
With this, plankton adapt to new environmental conditions, but they are doing so in very different ways, especially when compared with around the equator and at the poles. Temperature, unsurprisingly, has been found to be the key parameter of distribution and activity in the ocean.
Data was drawn from how the oceanic microbial communities adapt to environmental changes, such as by adapting their metabolism and hence their gene expression patterns.
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Commenting on the data pattern, researcher Lucie Zinger tells Digital Journal: “Our results clearly show that the planktonic diversity is more important around the equator, and decreases towards the poles.”
She adds that: “The existence of such latitudinal diversity gradients is well established for most terrestrial organisms and was described by Alexander von Humboldt 200 years ago. It’s an interesting coincidence that we can prove its validity for most planktonic groups in the global ocean, from giant viruses to small metazoans, on the 250th anniversary of his birth.”
More about ocean biodiversity, Poles, Tara Oceans, Plankton, Biodiversity
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