The edge of the North West European Shelf (NWES) is characterised by a steep continental slope and a northward flowing slope current. These topographic/hydrographic features separate oceanic water and shelf water masses hence potentially separate phytoplankton communities. The slope current may facilitate the advective transport of phytoplankton, with mixing at the shelf edge supporting nutrient supply and therefore phytoplankton production. On the west Scottish shelf in particular, little is known about the phytoplankton communities in and around the shelf break and adjacent waters. Hence, to improve our understanding of environmental drivers of phytoplankton communities, biological and environmental data were collected on seven cross-shelf transects across the Malin and Hebridean Shelves during autumn 2014. Density profiles indicated that shelf break and oceanic stations had a 100 m deep mixed surface layer while stations on the shelf were generally well mixed. Analysis of similarity and multidimensional scaling of phytoplankton counts revealed that phytoplankton communities on the shelf were significantly different to those found at the shelf break and at oceanic stations. Shelf stations were dominated by dinoflagellates, with diatoms contributing a maximum of 37% of cells. Shelf break and oceanic stations were also dinoflagellate dominated but displayed a lower species diversity. Significant difference between shelf and shelf break stations suggested that the continental slope limited cross shelf phytoplankton exchange. Northern and southern phytoplankton communities on the shelf were approximately 15% dissimilar while there was no latitudinal gradient for stations along the slope current, suggesting this current provided south to north connectivity. Fitting environmental data to phytoplankton ordination showed a significant relationship between phytoplankton community dissimilarities and nutrient concentrations and light availability on the shelf compared to shelf break and oceanic stations in the study area.
Siemering, B., Bresnan, E., Painter, S. C., Daniels, C. J., Inall, M., & Davidson, K. (2016). Phytoplankton Distribution in Relation to Environmental Drivers on the North West European Shelf Sea. PLoS ONE, 11(10), [e0164482]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0164482