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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 232:63-74 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps232063

Effect of diel and interday variations in light on the cell division pattern and in situ growth rates of the bloom-forming dinoflagellate Heterocapsa triquetra

R. W. Litaker1,2,*, V. E. Warner3, C. Rhyne3, C. S. Duke4, B. E. Kenney5, J. Ramus5, P. A. Tester1

1Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, National Ocean Service, NOAA, 101 Pivers Island Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
2Program in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, CB#7100, 442 Taylor Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hil, North Carolina 27599, USA
3School of Science and Technology, PO Box 18540, 1400 J. R. Lynch Street, Jackson State University, Mississippi 39217-1050, USA
4The Environmental Company, Inc., 1611 N. Kent Street, Suite 900, Arlington, Virginia 22209, USA
5Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University, 135 Duke Marine Lab Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA

ABSTRACT: Heterocapsa triquetra is an important bloom-forming dinoflagellate found in estuaries and nearshore regions worldwide. In an initial time-intensive study, the shallow, tidally mixed Newport River estuary, North Carolina, USA, was sampled from a fixed point located in the middle of the estuary every 2 h for 2 wk during the development of an H. triquetra bloom. The objective of this study was to investigate how short-term, high-frequency changes in temperature, light and salinity affected diel and interday cell division patterns and in situ growth rates of H. triquetra. During this study, phytoplankton samples were preserved in buffered formaldehyde and mitotic indices determined by acridine orange staining. The diel division pattern showed a nocturnal maximum between 23:00 and 05:00 h with reduced division during the day, a pattern characteristic of most dinoflagellates. The relative proportion of binucleate cells present during the day was influenced by interday variations in total irradiance, increasing during 2 of the 3 periods when there were 3 or more consecutive high light days (>28 E m-2 d-1). Approximately 40% of the overall variation in interday division rates could be accounted for by differences in daily irradiance. The interday light differences were largely due to well-developed atmospheric frontal systems that brought increased cloud cover to the study area at regular 3 to 4 d intervals. The initial study, however, was of insufficient length to determine if the transient day-to-day light limitation could significantly affect seasonal bloom formation. A second longer-term, spatially intensive study was therefore undertaken to assess the relative importance of the incident light levels and nutrient inputs in controlling H. triquetra bloom initiation. During the second study, the estuary was monitored for photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), salinity, temperature, inorganic nutrients and cell densities of H. triquetra at 9 locations every wk from 23 December 1997 to 27 March 1998. Maximal H. triquetra bloom formation occurred during a 2 wk period when daily incident light levels were at or near the annual low. This suggested that H. triquetra is well adapted for utilizing low light levels and that variation in in situ growth rates in response to daily changes in PAR had little effect on bloom development. Instead, bloom initiation began with inputs of nitrogen-rich water following a runoff event, indicating that nutrient inputs are much more important in controlling bloom development than is light.

KEY WORDS: Heterocapsa triquetra · Cell division · Mitotic index · Diel · Light · Dinoflagellate · Bloom development

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