Spatiotemporal patterns of subtidal benthic microalgal biomass and community composition in Galveston Bay, Texas, USA
Many Gulf of Mexico estuaries have low ratios of water volume to bottom surface area, and benthic processes in these systems likely have a major influence on system structure and function. The purpose of this study was to determine the spatiotemporal distribution of biomass and community composition of subtidal benthic microalgal (BMA) communities in Galveston Bay, TX, USA, compare BMA community composition and biomass to phytoplankton in overlying waters, and estimate the potential contribution of BMA to the trophodynamics in this shallow, turbid, subtropical estuary. The estimates of BMA biomass (mean=4.21 mg Chl a m(-2)) for Galveston Bay were within the range of the reported values for similar Gulf of Mexico estuaries. BMA biomass in the central part of the bay was essentially homogeneous, whereas biomass at the seaward and upper bay ends of the transect were significantly lower. Peridinin, fucoxanthin, and alloxanthin were the three carotenoids with the highest concentrations, with fucoxanthin having the highest mean concentration (1.82 mg m(-2)). The seaward and landward ends of the transect differed from the central region of the bay with respect to the relative abundances of chlorophytes, cyanobacteria, and photosynthetic bacteria. Benthic microalgal community composition also showed a gradual shift over time due to changes in the relative abundances of photosynthetic bacteria, cryptophytes, dinoflagellates, and cyanobacteria. Major changes in community composition occurred in the spring months (March to April). On an areal basis, BMA biomass in Galveston Bay occurred at minor concentrations (16.5%) relative to phytoplankton. Furthermore, the concentrations of carotenoid pigments for phytoplankton and BMA (fucoxanthin, alloxanthin, and zeaxanthin) were correlated (r=0.48 to 0.61), suggesting a close linkage between microalgae in the water column and sediments. The contribution of BMA to the primary productivity of the deeper waters (> 2 m) of Galveston Bay is probably very small in comparison to shallower waters along the bay margins. The significant similarities in the community composition of phytoplankton and BMA illustrate the potential importance of deposition and resuspension processes in this turbid, shallow estuary.