Assessing the relative importance of environmental conditions and community interactions is necessary for evaluating the sensitivity of biological communities to anthropogenic change. Phytoplankton communities have a central role in aquatic food webs and biogeochemical cycles, therefore, consequences of differing community sensitivities may have broad ecosystem effects.
Using two long-term time series (28 and 20 years) from the Baltic Sea, we evaluated coastal and offshore major phytoplankton taxonomic group biovolume patterns over annual and monthly time-scales and assessed their response to environmental drivers and biotic interactions. Overall, coastal phytoplankton responded more strongly to environmental anomalies than offshore phytoplankton, although the specific environmental driver changed with time scale. A trend indicating a state shift in annual biovolume anomalies occurred at both sites and the shift's timing at the coastal site closely tracked other long-term Baltic Sea ecosystem shifts.
Cyanobacteria and the autotrophic ciliate Mesodinium rubrum were more strongly related than other groups to this trend with opposing relationships that were consistent across sites. On a monthly scale, biotic interactions within communities were rare and did not overlap between the coastal and offshore sites. Annual scales may be better able to assess general patterns across habitat types in the Baltic Sea, but monthly community dynamics may differ at relatively small spatial scales and consequently respond differently to future change.
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