In recent years, media reports of jellyfish blooms and some scientific publications have fueled the idea that jellyfish and other gelatinous floating creatures are becoming more common and may dominate the seas in coming decades. The growing impacts of humans on the oceans, including overfishing and climate change, have been suggested as possible causes of this apparently alarming trend.
A careful evaluation of the evidence by Robert H. Condon of Dauphin Island Sea Lab and his 16 coauthors, however, finds the idea that jellyfish, comb jellies, salps, and similar organisms are surging globally to be lacking support. Rather, Condon and his colleagues suggest, the perception of an increase is the result of more scientific attention being paid to phenomena such as jellyfish blooms and media fascination with the topic. Also important is the lack of good information on their occurrence in the past, which encourages misleading comparisons. Condon and his coauthors describe their findings in the February issue of BioScience.
Such fossil and documentary evidence as is available indicates that occasional spectacular blooms of jellyfish are a normal part of such organisms' natural history, and may be linked to natural climate cycles. But blooms drew less attention in decades and centuries gone by.
Condon and his coauthors do not urge complacency, and acknowledge a lack of consensus among researchers. They point out that changes in populations of jellyfish and similar sea organisms do have important consequences for local marine ecology and could be affected by human activity. For that reason, they are assembling a comprehensive new database that will enable trends in the numbers of such creatures to be assessed and the links to human activity studied. But for now, Condon and his coauthors believe the case for jellyfish-dominated seas in coming decades is not proven.
BioScience, published monthly, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS; www.aibs.org). BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents nearly 160 member societies and organizations. The article by Condon and colleagues is available during the month of February at http://www.
The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the February 2012 issue of BioScience is as follows:
Forty Years of Vegetation Change on the Missouri River Floodplain.
W. Carter Johnson, Mark D. Dixon, Michael L. Scott, Lisa Rabbe, Gary Larson, Malia Volke, and Brett Werner
Nationwide Assessment of Nonpoint Source Threats to
Thomas C. Brown and Pamela Froemke
Shifting Climate, Altered Niche, and a Dynamic Conservation
Strategy for Yellow-Cedar in the North Pacific Coastal Rainforest.
Paul E. Hennon, David V. D'Amore, Paul G. Schaberg, Dustin T. Wittwer, and Colin S. Shanley
Questioning the Rise of Gelatinous Zooplankton in the World's
Robert H. Condon, William M. Graham, Carlos M. Duarte, Kylie A. Pitt, Cathy H. Lucas, Steven H.D. Haddock, Kelly R. Sutherland, Kelly L. Robinson, Michael N. Dawson, Mary Beth Decker, Claudia E. Mills, Jennifer E. Purcell, Alenka Malej, Hermes Mianzan, Shin-ichi Uye, Stefan Gelcich, and Laurence P. Madin
Uncovering, Collecting, and Analyzing Records to Investigate the
Ecological Impacts of Climate Change: A Template from Thoreau's
Richard B. Primack and Abraham J. Miller-Rushing
Developing a Interdisciplinary, Distributed Graduate
Course for Twenty-First Century Scientists.
Helene H. Wagner, Melanie A. Murphy, Rolf Holderegger, and Lisette Waits
Dramatic Improvements and Persistent Challenges for
Krista L. McGuire, Richard B. Primack, and Elizabeth C. Losos
Will Amphibians Croak under the Endangered
Brian Gratwicke, Thomas E. Lovejoy, and David E. Wildt