Jellyfish and Ocean Tipping Points

by , 15 January 2011


Over at Yale Environment 360, Richard Stone has an interesting article about ongoing work examining recent blooms of jellyfish populations.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that jellyfish populations have been on the rise, and it is possible that some marine systems are entering alternate stable states that are jellyfish- rather than fish-dominated:

By removing a curb on jellyfish population growth, overfishing “opens up ecological space for jellyfish,” says Anthony Richardson, an ecologist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Cleveland, Australia. And as jellyfish flourish, he says, their predation on fish eggs takes a heavier and heavier toll on battered fish stocks.


“When an ecosystem is dominated by jellyfish, fish will mostly disappear,” says ecologist Sun Song, director of the Institute of Oceanology in Qingdao, China. “Once that happens,” he contends, “there is almost no method to deal with it.

The picture is still hazy, but a working group at the fantastic National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) is trying to gather all the data out there in order to clear it up.  NCEAS has produced some of the most compelling work in ecology in recent years; I look forward to what they come up with.