Jellyfish medusae prey on zooplankton and may impact fish recruitment both directly (top-down control) and indirectly (through competition). Abundances of Aurelia aurita, Cyanea lamarckii and Cyanea capillata medusae (Scyphozoa) in the North Sea appear to be linked to large-scale inter-annual climatic change, as quantified by the North Atlantic Oscillation Index (NAOI), the Barents Sea-Ice Index (BSII) and changes in the latitude of the Gulf Stream North Wall (GSNW). Hydroclimatic forcing may thus be an important factor influencing the abundance of gelatinous zooplankton and may modulate the scale of any ecosystem impact of jellyfish. The population responses are probably also affected by local variability in the environment manifested in intra-annual changes in temperature, salinity, current strength/direction and prey abundance. Aurelia aurita and C. lamarckii in the north-west and south-east North Sea exhibited contrasting relationships to change in the NAOI and BSII: north of Scotland, where the
North Sea borders the Atlantic, positive relationships were evident between the abundance of scyphomedusae (data from 1974 to 1986, except 1975) and the indices; whereas west of northern Denmark, a region much less affected by Atlantic inflow, negative relationships were found (data from 1973 to 1983, except 1974). Weaker negative relationships with the NAOI were also found in an intermediate region, east of Scotland, for the abundance of A. aurita and C. capillata medusae (1971 to 1982). East of Shetland, the abundance of jellyfish was not correlated directly with the NAOI but, in contrast to all other regions, the abundances of A. aurita and C. lamarckii (1971 to 1986, not 1984) were found to correlate negatively with changes in the GSNW, which itself was significantly positively correlated to the NAOI with a two year lag. On this evidence, we suggest that, for jellyfish, there exist three regions of the North Sea with distinct environmental processes governing species abundance: one north of Scotland,
another east of Shetland, and a more southerly group (i.e. east of Scotland and west of northern Denmark). Impacts by jellyfish are likely to vary regionally, and ecosystem management may benefit from considering this spatial variability.