Jellyfish blooms: are populations increasing globally in response to changing ocean conditions?
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By the pulsed nature of their life cycles, gelatinous zooplankton come and go seasonally, giving rise in even the most undisturbed circumstances to summer blooms. Even holoplanktonic species like ctenophores increase in number in the spring or summer when planktonic food is available in greater abundance. Beyond that basic life cycle-driven seasonal change in numbers, several other kinds of events appear to be increasing the numbers of jellies present in some ecosystems. Over recent decades, man's expanding influence on the oceans has begun to cause real change and there is reason to think that in some regions, new blooms of jellyfish are occurring in response to some of the cumulative effects of these impacts. The issue is not simple and in most cases there are few data to support our perceptions. Some blooms appear to be long-term increases in native jellyfish populations. A different phenomenon is demonstrated by jellyfish whose populations regularly fluctuate, apparently with climate, causing periodic blooms. Perhaps the most damaging type of jellyfish increase in recent decades has been caused by populations of new, nonindigenous species gradually building-up to `bloom' levels in some regions. Lest one conclude that the next millennium will feature only increases in jellyfish numbers worldwide, examples are also given in which populations are decreasing in heavily impacted coastal areas. Some jellyfish will undoubtedly fall subject to the ongoing species elimination processes that already portend a vast global loss of biodiversity. Knowledge about the ecology of both the medusa and the polyp phases of each life cycle is necessary if we are to understand the true causes of these increases and decreases, but in most cases where changes in medusa populations have been recognized, we know nothing about the field ecology of the polyps.
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