In the last of our features from the ICES/PICES Zooplankton Production Symposium, taking place this week in Bergen, Marie Hauge sits down with Peter Wiebe to discuss the role of ICES Working Group on Zooplankton Ecology. Text and photos by Marie Hauge, Institute of Marine Research.
Peter Wiebe is a veteran in the interntional zooplankton science community. He works as a researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and is a long time member of ICES Working Group on Zooplankton Ecology (WGZE). This week he has been participating in the 6th ICES/PICES Zooplankton Production Symposium in Bergen, where he is an invited speaker at the session on the diversity and role of macrozooplankton in marine ecosystems.
Why should we care about zooplankton, these small marine animals that very few of us have, or ever will see?
Marine ecosystems are driven by phytoplankton and zooplankton, and animals such as fish, sea mammals, and seabirds rely on zooplankton. We can see a significant shift in the northern hemisphere: coldwater zooplankton species are moving further north and are being replaced by warm water zooplankton with a different life story, that for example, breed at a different time of the year. This may affect fish and other species as they need to find zooplankton to eat at a certain time. We understand the general principles of the marine ecosystems, but we miss the key to the fine steering mechanisms that determine the ecosystem dynamics; how zooplankton, fish, and mammals are connected. This knowledge is absolutely fundamental if we are to understand the changes that are taking place, and how they will impact on fish and other harvestable resources. The managers need to know this so they can give sustainable advice to society.
Are you worried on behalf of the zooplankton?
I don't think any zooplankton species are in danger of becoming extinct, as we have seen for some populations of whales and fish. The impact is rather seen on the level of production. But, in addition to climate changes, it worries me that we plan for zooplankton harvesting and fishing in the deep scattering layers at a stage where we know very little of these systems. I don't know how wise it is to exploit these resources before we have better assessments and know more about impacts on zooplankton, such as bycatch. In these questions the expertise of ICES WGZE is vital.
The long term effort and continuity in the working group are of great importance and represent a unique international collaboration. The zooplankton symposium is an excellent arena to join forces, discuss the common challenges and get an overview of the ongoing zooplankton studies all over the world.
"Zooplankton come in all shapes and sizes, such fantastic, beautiful creatures. Sometimes it hard to believe you are even looking at an animal", says Peter Wiebe about the charismatic microfauna.