Climate shifts the interaction web of a marine plankton community


Correspondence: Tessa B. Francis, PhD, Puget Sound Institute, University of Washington, Tacoma, Center for Urban Waters, 326 East D Street, Tacoma, WA, tel. + 206 427 7124/206 860 7601, fax + 206 685 7471, e-mail:


Climatic effects in the ocean at the community level are poorly described, yet accurate predictions about ecosystem responses to changing environmental conditions rely on understanding biotic responses in a food-web context to support knowledge about direct biotic responses to the physical environment. Here we conduct time-series analyses with multivariate autoregressive (MAR) models of marine zooplankton abundance in the Northern California Current from 1996 to 2009 to determine the influence of climate variables on zooplankton community interactions. Autoregressive models showed different community interactions during warm vs. cool ocean climate conditions. Negative ecological interactions among zooplankton groups characterized the major warm phase during the time series, whereas during the major cool phase, ocean transport largely structured zooplankton communities. Local environmental conditions (sea temperature) and large-scale climate indices (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) were associated with changes in zooplankton abundance across the full time series. Secondary environmental correlates of zooplankton abundance varied with ocean climate phase, with most support during the warm phase for upwelling as a covariate, and most support during the cool phase for salinity. Through simultaneous quantitation of community interactions and environmental covariates, we show that marine zooplankton community structure varies with climate, suggesting that predictions about ecosystem responses to future climate scenarios in the Northern California Current should include potential changes to the base of the pelagic food.