An international study involving the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has enabled the creation of the world’s first global database of jellyfish records to map jellyfish populations in the oceans. This tool helps to overcome the scarce available information on jellyfish biomass and its global distribution. This lack hampers the scientific and media debate about the behavior of jellyfish in a changing ocean, and about its ecological impact. The work is published in the Global Ecology and Biogeography journal.

According to CSIC researcher Carlos Duarte, biologist at the Mediterranean Institute for Advance Studies, researchers have developed the Jellyfish Database Initiative (JeDI) to map jellyfish biomass in the upper 200m of the world’s oceans. This has also served to explore the environmental causes that trigger the observed distribution.

According to the study, led by the marine biologist Cathy Lucas, from the University of Southampton (UK), with this resource anyone can address questions about the temporal and spatial extent of jellyfish populations at local, regional and global scales, and the potential implications for ecosystems.

Using data from JeDI, researchers could show that jellyfish and other gelatinous zooplankton are present in every ocean of the world, with the greatest concentrations in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. In the North Atlantic Ocean, records have shown that dissolved oxygen and sea surface temperature are the main responsible for the jellyfish biomass distribution.

This spatial analysis is a key first step to establish a database of gelatinous organisms from which future trends can be assessed and hypotheses tested; specifically those relating multiple regional and global drivers of jellyfish biomass. Researchers state that if this jellyfish biomass increases, specifically in the Northern Hemisphere, it could have a domino effect on the ecosystem functioning, the biogeochemical cycling and the fish biomass.

The Jellyfish Database Initiative is the first global-scale database of jellyfish records coordinated by scientists and holds more than 476,000 data items on jellyfish and other gelatinous taxa. JeDI has been designed as an open-access database for researchers, media and public, who will be able to use it as a research tool.

The database is located at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), a multidisciplinary research center. It is affiliated with the University of California and access to the database can be found through jedi.nceas.ucsb.edu.

Future JeDI development and a re-analysis for several decades to come will enable scientists to determine whether jellyfish biomass and its distribution have been altered as a result of the climate change caused by humans.

Cathy H. Lucas, Daniel O. B. Jones, Catherine J. Hollyhead, Robert H. Condon, Carlos M. Duarte, William M. Graham, Kelly L. Robinson, Kylie A. Pitt, Mark Schildhauer and Jim Regetz. Gelatinous zooplankton biomass in the global oceans: geographic variation and environmental drivers. Global Ecology and Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/geb.1269

Press release (pdf 218K)

Photo: Golden Jellyfish (mastigias) in the JellyfishLake (Palau)

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