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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 192:65-78 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps192065

Responses of phytoplankton and Pfiesteria-like dinoflagellate zoospores to nutrient enrichment in the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina, USA

James L. Pinckney1,*, Hans W. Paerl2, Elin Haugen3, Patricia A. Tester3

1Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-3146, USA
2University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Institute of Marine Sciences, 3431 Arendell Street, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
3National Ocean Service, NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research at Beaufort, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA

ABSTRACT: The recently described toxic dinoflagellate Pfiesteria piscicida and morphologically similar Pfiesteria-like dinoflagellates have become a major water quality issue with possible fish mortality and reported human health implications. The linkages between accelerated nutrient loading, eutrophication, and the proliferation of this group of dinoflagellates, however, are not well established for natural systems. Phytoplankton primary production may provide a key link between nutrient inputs and potential outbreaks of Pfiesteria-like biflagellated zoospores in the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina. The impacts of nutrient (NO3--nitrogen and PO43--phosphorus) supply rates, sediment-water column exchange, water column mixing, and phytoplankton prey on the abundance of Pfiesteria-like non-toxic biflagellated zoospores were examined seasonally over 18 mo in a region of the Neuse River Estuary where fish-kills attributed to P. piscicida have been reported. Phytoplankton community responses to the manipulated variables indicated that biomass and productivity were consistently N limited. Dominant phytoplankton taxa, including chlorophytes, diatoms, and cyanobacteria, exhibited significant biomass increases in response to N (as NO3-) additions. Phosphate (as PO43-) enrichments did not additionally influence the relative growth and abundance of individual algal groups. Pfiesteria-like zoospores did not exhibit significant increases in abundance in response to mixing, sediment, or nutrient-addition treatments. Seasonally, the number of Pfiesteria-like zoospores was positively correlated with phytoplankton biomass and productivity. The abundance of Pfiesteria-like zoospores followed general trends in phytoplankton biomass and production in the estuary, suggesting that the source of organic nutrition supporting growth is likely phytoplankton based. Lowering of phytoplankton growth and bloom potentials through proposed nutrient-input reduction strategies should translate into broad-based water quality improvement, including declines in the frequency and magnitudes of nuisance algal blooms, O2 depletion, and associated fish and shellfish mortality in the Neuse River Estuary.

KEY WORDS: Phytoplankton · Mesocosm · Growth · Nutrient · Estuary · North Carolina

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