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Defining zooplankton habitats in the Gulf of Lion (NW Mediterranean Sea) using size structure and environmental conditions

July 24, 2014

The size structure of zooplankton communities in the Gulf of Lion, NW Mediterranean Sea, was studied in May 2010 and January 2011. The integrated physical and biological measurements provided a 3D view with high spatial resolution of the physical and biological variables and their correlations over the whole gulf. The effects of physical processes such as freshwater input, coastal upwelling, and water column mixing by winds on phytoplankton and zooplankton distributions were analyzed using these data. During the winter, strong northerly winds mixed the water column, and the vertical distributions of biological variables were uniform over most of the gulf while there were local hot spots with high chlorophyll a (chl a) concentrations in front of the Rhône mouths and in coastal areas. During the spring, light winds and water column stratification resulted in less vertical mixing, and the Rhône River freshwater plume spread over a large part of the gulf. The nutrients delivered by the freshwater input encouraged high primary production in the surface layer. In the pycnocline, a thin layer of high particle concentration was associated with these high phytoplankton biomasses. Three habitats were distinguished based on statistical analysis performed on biological and physical variables: (1) the coastal area characterized by shallow waters, high chl a concentrations, and a steep slope of the normalized biomass size spectrum (NBSS); (2) the area affected by the Rhône with high stratification and flat NBSS slope; and (3) the continental shelf with a deep mixed layer, relatively low particle concentrations, and moderate NBSS slope. Defining habitat is a relevant approach to designing new zooplankton sampling strategies, validating distribution models and including the zooplankton compartment in trophodynamic studies.

Espinasse B, Carlotti F, Zhou M, Devenon JL, 2014: Defining zooplankton habitats in the Gulf of Lion (NW Mediterranean Sea) using size structure and environmental conditions, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 506, 31-46, doi:10.3354/meps10803. Article (subscription required).

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