Nutrient pulses and phytoplankton growth

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In estuaries, phytoplankton are exposed to rapidly changing conditions that may have profound effects on community structure and function. In these experiments, we evaluated the growth, productivity, and compositional responses of natural phytoplankton communities exposed to limiting nutrient additions and incubation conditions typical of estuarine habitats. Mesocosm bioassays were used to measure the short-term (2-day) growth rate, primary productivity, and group-specific biomass responses of the phytoplankton community in the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina. A three-factor (mixing, sediment addition, and nutrient addition) experimental design was applied using 55-L mesocosm tanks. Growth rates were determined using the 14C photopigment radiolabeling method, and the abundance of algal groups was based on quantification of chemosystematic photopigments by HPLC. For Neuse River Estuary phytoplankton communities, stratified (nonmixed), turbid, and low-nitrate conditions favored increases in cryptomonad biomass. Mixed, turbid, high-nitrate conditions were favorable for increased primary productivity and chlorophytes, diatoms, and cyanobacteria. The highest community growth rates occurred under calm, high-nitrate conditions. This approach provided an assessment of the community-level phytoplankton responses and insights into the mechanisms driving blooms and bloom species in estuarine waters. The ability to rapidly alter growth rates to capitalize on conditions conducive for growth may play an important role in the timing, extent, and species involved with blooms in estuarine waters. Adaptive growth rate responses of individual species, as well as the community as a whole, further illustrate the sensitivity of estuarine ecosystems to excessive N inputs.

Pinckney, J.L., Paerl, H.W. & Harrington, M.B. Responses of the phytoplankton community growth rate to nutrient pulses in variable estuarine environments J. Phycol. 35, 1455-1463 (1999).
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