Evidence for a substantial increase in gelatinous zooplankton in the Bering Sea, with possible links to climate change


Richard D. Brodeur Present address: National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2030 Marine Science Drive, Newport, OR 97365, USA. E-mail: rick.brodeur@noaa.gov


We examined quantitative catches of large medusae from summer bottom trawl surveys that sampled virtually the same grid station on the eastern Bering Sea shelf using the same methodology every year from 1979 to 1997. This series shows a gradual increase in biomass of medusae from 1979 to 1989, followed by a dramatic increase in the 1990s. The median biomass increased tenfold between the 1982–1989 and 1990–1997 periods. Most of this biomass was found within the Middle Shelf Domain (50 < z < 100 m). The greatest rate of increase occurred in the north-west portion of this domain. Whether this dramatic increase in biomass of gelatinous zooplankton has resulted from some anthropogenic perturbation of the Bering Sea environment or is a manifestation of natural ecosystem variability is unclear. However, several large-scale winter/spring atmospheric and oceanographic variables in the Bering Sea exhibited concomitant changes beginning around 1990, indicating that a possible regime change occurred at this time.