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Climate effects on formation of jellyfish and ctenophore blooms: a review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 June 2005

Jennifer E. Purcell
Western Washington University, Shannon Point Marine Center, 1900 Shannon Point Rd, Anacortes, WA 98221, USA


Much speculation and some evidence suggest that jellyfish and ctenophore populations have increased in recent decades. Unfortunately, few past records exist with which to compare current populations, and our knowledge of how environmental factors affect jellyfish population size is meagre. Human enterprise has wrought many changes in the ocean that are hypothesized to favour jellyfish, including eutrophication, reduction of fish stocks, and global warming. In addition to anthropogenic changes, natural climate cycles may affect jellyfish populations. Records of jellyfish and ctenophore abundance that appear to be related to indices of climate variations (temperature, salinity, North Atlantic Oscillation, North Pacific Decadal Oscillation, El Niño Southern Oscillation) are reviewed. In eleven species studied from subtropical, temperate and subarctic environments, warm temperatures were related to large population sizes; three scyphozoan species in the North Sea, and one mesopelagic hydromedusan were exceptions to that trend. One tropical scyphomedusan species was decimated by unusually warm, salty El Niño conditions in Palau. Because climate changes have complex ecosystem-level effects, the proximate causes of jellyfish increases are difficult to deduce. Therefore, the effects of temperature, salinity and prey on asexual production of new medusae from the benthic polyps of scyphomedusae and hydromedusae also are reviewed. Experiments on temperate species show greater and more rapid production of medusae at warmer temperatures. Salinity also had significant effects, and was especially important for estuarine species. Temperature and salinity affect asexual reproduction rates directly through metabolism, and indirectly through prey capture. Ocean warming may shift the distributions, expand the seasonal occurrence, and increase the abundances of temperate-boreal species. Populations living near their thermal maximum may suffer negative consequences of warming.

© 2005 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom

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