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Are Nuisance Jellyfish Really Taking Over the World's Oceans?

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.

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 Water Quality
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 Oceans
Robert H. Condon and colleagues
Uncovering, Collecting, and Analyzing Records to Investigate the Ecological Impacts of Climate Change: A Template from Thoreau's Concord

Richard B. Primack and Abraham J. Miller-Rushing

Developing an 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 Women Ecologists
Krista L. McGuire, Richard B. Primack, and Elizabeth C. Losos
Will Amphibians Croak under the Endangered Species Act?
Brian Gratwicke, Thomas E. Lovejoy, and David E. Wildt
Timothy M. Beardsley
Editor in Chief, BioScience
American Insitute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
1900 Campus Commons Drive, Suite 200
Reston, VA 20191
703-674-2500 x326

Tim Beardsley | EurekAlert!
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