Interactions between seasonality and oceanic forcing drive the phytoplankton variability in the tropical-temperate transition zone (~ 30°S) of Eastern Australia
Armbrecht, LH, Schaeffer, A, Roughan, M & Armand, LK 2015, 'Interactions between seasonality and oceanic forcing drive the phytoplankton variability in the tropical-temperate transition zone (~ 30°S) of Eastern Australia', Journal of Marine Systems, vol 144, pp. 92-106.
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The East Australian Current (EAC) has been shown to be warming rapidly, which is expected to cause latitudinal shifts in phytoplankton abundance, distribution and composition along the east Australian coast. Yet a lack of phytoplankton information exists northward of 34°S. Here, we provide the first detailed taxonomic time-series survey (monthly sampling for about one annual cycle, 2011–2012) in the east Australian tropical-temperate transition zone (~ 30°S, upstream of the EAC separation point at ~ 31–32°S). All phytoplankton (categorised depending on their association with specific water-types) show a seasonal signal with abundance maxima (minima) during summer (winter). This seasonal signal is most pronounced in the seasonal/bloom category and least expressed by deep-water taxa, which prefer cold, saline and dense bottom water independent of the season. Different extents of EAC encroachment onto the continental shelf drive the cross-shelf phytoplankton composition and distribution, such that a weak EAC is associated with phytoplankton community being organised along ‘depth’ and ‘distance from the coast’ gradients with high phytoplankton abundances inshore. A strong EAC favours the occurrence of warm-water taxa offshore and an increase in diatom abundance on the mid-shelf (53% shelf width). We conclude that the phytoplankton community in the tropical-temperate transition zone of Eastern Australia is driven by an interaction of intrinsic seasonal cycles and primarily EAC-driven oceanic forcing. Our findings benefit studies located in Western Boundary Current systems worldwide, in which warming and strengthening of these currents are predicted to severely impact phytoplankton dynamics.