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Plankton as prevailing conditions: A surveillance role for plankton indicators within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) uses an indicator-based approach for ecosystem assessment; indicators of the state of ecosystem components ('state indicators') are used to determine whether, or not, these ecosystem components are at ‘Good Environmental Status’ relative to prevailing oceanographic conditions. Here, it is illustrated that metrics of change in plankton communities frequently provide indications of changing prevailing oceanographic conditions. Plankton indicators can therefore provide useful diagnostic information when interpreting results and determining assessment outcomes for analyses of state indicators across the food web. They can also perform a strategic role in assessing these state indicators by influencing target setting and management measures. In addition to their primary role of assessing the state of pelagic habitats against direct anthropogenic pressures, plankton community indicators can therefore also fulfil an important 'surveillance' role for other state indicators used to formally assess biodiversity status under the MSFD.