Systematics, Biodiversity and Evolution of Plants

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Wednesday November 22, 2023, 5pm GMT+1


Dr. Bofu Zheng a, Prof. Andrew J. Lucas b, Prof. Peter J.S. Franks b, Dr. Tamara L. Schlosser b, Dr. Clarissa R. Anderson b,c, Prof. Uwe Send b, Prof. Kristen Davis d, Prof. Andrew D. Barton b, Dr. Heidi M. Sosik a

Dinoflagellate vertical migration fuels an intense red tide

a Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA
b Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
c Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System
d Department of Earth System Sciences, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California, USA


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasing globally, causing economic, human health, and ecosystem harm. In spite of the frequent occurrence of HABs, the mechanisms responsible for their exceptionally high biomass remain imperfectly understood. A 50-y-old hypothesis posits that some dense blooms derive from dinoflagellate motility: organisms swim upward during the day to photosynthesize and downward at night to access deep nutrients. This allows dinoflagellates to outgrow their nonmotile competitors. We tested this hypothesis with in situ data from an autonomous, ocean-wave-powered vertical profiling system. In this talk, we’ll show that the dinoflagellate Lingulodinium polyedra’s vertical migration led to depletion of deep nitrate during a 2020 red tide HAB event. Downward migration began at dusk, with the maximum migration depth determined by local nitrate concentrations. Losses of nitrate at depth were balanced by proportional increases in phytoplankton chlorophyll concentrations and suspended particle load, conclusively linking vertical migration to the access and assimilation of deep nitrate in the ocean environment. Vertical migration during the red tide created anomalous biogeochemical conditions compared to 70 y of climatological data, demonstrating the capacity of these events to temporarily reshape the coastal ocean’s ecosystem and biogeochemistry. Advances in the understanding of the physiological, behavioral, and metabolic dynamics of HAB-forming organisms from cutting-edge observational techniques will improve our ability to forecast HABs and mitigate their consequences in the future.