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Diversity of taxon-specific traits of seasonally distinct unicellular eukaryotic assemblages in a eutrophic coastal area with marked plankton blooms

Savvas Genitsaris*, Natassa Stefanidou, Ulrich Sommer, Maria Moustaka-Gouni

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In this work, we focused on the functional characterization of the unicellular eukaryotic assemblages that were previously taxonomically characterized by 18S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing in a eutrophic coastal site with marked plankton blooms. Biological traits of different functional groups were assigned to the retrieved OTUs. The traits included size, trophic strategy, the presence of spines, mucilage production, colony formation, motility, spore formation, and potential harmfulness. Functional diversity indices were calculated and compared to analogous taxonomic diversity indices, indicating a strong positive coupling of richness and dominance and a negative coupling of evenness, even at a low taxonomic resolution (at the family/genus/species level). Biological trait trade-offs and co-occurrences of specific traits were evident during the succession of plankton blooms. The trophic strategy dominating in the assemblages frequently alternated between autotrophy, mixotrophy, and a few recorded cases of parasitism. Given that there was no indication of nutrient limitation, we suggest that biotic pressures force marine eukaryotes to exploit narrow niches by adopting specific strategies/traits that favour their survival. These traits act by increasing the organisms’ resource acquisition potential and via predator avoidance. This leads to a unique succession of blooms in the system, characterized by adaptations of the bloom taxa that are a direct response to the preceding assemblage.