Use of long-term data and multivariate ordination techniques to identify environmental factors governing estuarine phytoplankton species dynamics

Rothenberger, Meghan B., JoAnn M. Burkholder, Thomas R. Wentworth

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(6), 2009, 2107-2127 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.6.2107

ABSTRACT: A continuous, 13-yr record of environmental data and phytoplankton species and assemblage structure in the mesohaline Neuse River Estuary (biweekly, April-October; monthly, November-March) was used to evaluate phytoplankton assemblage responses to changing environmental conditions. Ordination techniques including nonmetric multidimensional scaling, indicator species analysis, and BIO-ENV software were used to investigate potential environmental predictors of phytoplankton assemblage patterns under chronic eutrophication. Phytoplankton assemblages were strongly related to temperature and total nitrogen : total phosphorus ratios, with expected seasonal changes in species composition. Interannual changes in river discharge influenced whether phytoplankton assemblages were dominated by diatoms and phototrophic flagellates or by mixotrophic and heterotrophic dinoflagellates. Increasing ammonium concentrations also have been an important influence on phytoplankton assemblages. Raphidophytes (including the potentially toxic species Heterosigma akashiwo), haptophytes, chlorophytes, and the bloom-forming dinoflagellate Heterocapsa rotundata have increased in more recent years (2000-2006), concomitant with increasing ammonium concentrations. Abundance of the potentially toxic dinoflagellates Prorocentrum minimum and the grouping Pfiesteria spp., ‘‘pfiesteria-like’’ dinoflagellates, and Karlodinium veneficum remained stationary over time and rarely exceeded 103 cells mL-1. Abundance of P. minimum was positively related to dissolved organic nitrogen and suspended solids concentrations, whereas the highest abundance of the grouping Pfiesteria spp., ‘‘pfiesteria-like’’ dinoflagellates, and K. veneficum occurred during summer and fall, related to high total phosphorus concentrations, temperature, and salinity. Overall, this study provides new species-level insights to advance understanding about anthropogenic influences on phytoplankton assemblages. The data suggest an increasingly important role of ammonium in controlling phytoplankton assemblage structure, including increased abundance of some harmful species, in eutrophic estuaries.

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