Phenology of marine species
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Phenology is the study of annually recurring life-cycle events of species, such as the timing of migrations and flowering of plants. In the marine environment, phenology indicators include the timing of the spring phytoplankton bloom and the peak in abundance of other marine organisms. Change in phenology is one of the key indicators of the impacts of climate change on biological populations. Because marine species have different sensitivities to changes in temperature, these changes may lead to large shifts in the marine food web that can ultimately affect the food available to fish, birds or marine mammals. Differing responses have been seen across various levels of the food web.
Changes in the phenology of different plankton species are seen as a factor contributing to the decline in North Sea cod stocks, which was caused initially by over-fishing, and they have probably affected other fish populations (such as sand eels) that are an essential food source for seabirds.
In the North Sea, work on pelagic phenology has shown that plankton communities, including fish larvae, are very sensitive to regional climate warming. Responses to warming vary between trophic levels and functional groups, which may create a so-called ‘trophic mismatch’ between one species and their food source. The sexual maturation of decapoda larvae has been found to be particularly sensitive to water temperature and is therefore regarded as representative of phenological changes in the shelf-sea environments. Other taxa that also have their seasonal development closely triggered by temperature changes are also highly sensitive (e.g. echinoderm larvae, dinoflagellates, copepods).
- Sparks et al. 2006: Natural Heritage Trends of Scotland: phenological indicators of climate change. Sparks, T.H., Collinson, N., Crick, H., Croxton, P., Edwards, M., Huber, K., Jenkins, D., Johns, D., Last, F., Maberly, S., Marquiss, M., Pickup, J., Roy, D., Sims, D., Shaw, D., Turner, A., Watson, A., Woiwod, I. and Woodbridge, K. (2006). Natural Heritage Trends of Scotland: phenological indicators of climate change. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 167 (ROAME No. F01NB01).
- Decapoda larvae abundance and phenology in the central North Sea
- Mean number of decapods per sample
- Month of peak abundance
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Key policy question
How is climate change affecting the seasonal cycle of marine organisms in European seas?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Data from the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) on Decapoda larvae abundance in the central North Sea 1958–2009 is used for the indicator. The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey is the longest running, large-scale marine biological survey in the world. The CPR is a near-surface (10 m) plankton sampler voluntarily towed each month behind merchant ships on their normal routes of passage. Methods of analysis for, 400 phyto and zooplankton taxa have remained almost unchanged since 1958.
Methodology for gap filling
- Warner and Hays (1994): Sampling by the continuous plankton recorder survey Progress in Oceanography , Volume 34, Issues 2–3 , 1994, Pages 237–256
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
In general, changes related to the physical and chemical marine environment are better documented than biological changes because links between cause and effect are better understood and often time series of observations are longer. The longest available records of plankton are from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) are some 60 years long. It is a sampler that is towed behind many different merchant vessels, along fixed shipping routes. Sampling was started in the North Sea in the 1950s and today a network covering the entire north Atlantic has been established. No other plankton time series of equivalent length and geographical coverage exist for the European regional seas, although many new initiatives investigating species distributions and their changes in Europe’s seas are now emerging.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoTrine Christiansen
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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