Nutrient pulsing as a regulator of phytoplankton abundance and community composition in Galveston Bay, Texas


Jun. 2004


Oernolfsdottir, EB
Lumsden, SE
Pinckney, JL

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Galveston Bay, Texas, is a large shallow estuary with a watershed that includes 60% of the major industrial facilities of Texas. However, the system exhibits low to moderate (2-20 mu g l super(-1)) microalgal biomass with sporadic phytoplankton blooms. Both nitrogen (N) and phosphate (P) limitation of phytoplankton growth have been proposed for the estuary. However, shifts between N and P limitation of algae growth may occur due to annual fluctuations in nutrient concentrations. The primary goal of this work was to determine the primary limiting nutrient for phytoplankton in Galveston Bay. Nutrient addition bioassays were used to assess short-term (1-2 days) phytoplankton responses (both biomass and community composition) to potentially limiting nutrients. The experimental bioassays were conducted over an annual cycle using natural water collected from the center to lower part of the estuary. Total phytoplankton biomass increased in the nitrate (10 mu M) additions in 11 of the 13 bioassays, but no significant increases were detected in the phosphate (3 mu M)-only additions. Bioassay results suggest that the phytoplankton community was usually not phosphate limited. All major groups increased in biomass following nitrate additions but diatoms increased in biomass at a faster rate than other groups, shifting the community composition toward higher relative abundance of diatoms. The results of this study suggest that pulsed N input events preferentially favor increases in diatom biomass in this estuary. The broader implications of this study are that N pulsing events, primarily due to river discharge, play an important role in structuring the phytoplankton community in the Galveston Bay estuary.


pgs. 197-220


abundance, algal growth, algal blooms, bioassays, biomass, community composition, estuaries, limiting factors, nutrients, phytoplankton, population, river discharge, watershed