, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 664-679
Date: 03 Oct 2013

Phytoplankton Biomass and Composition in a River-Dominated Estuary During Two Summers of Contrasting River Discharge

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Estuaries located in the northern Gulf of Mexico are expected to experience reduced river discharge due to increasing demand for freshwater and predicted periods of declining precipitation. Changes in freshwater and nutrient input might impact estuarine higher trophic level productivity through changes in phytoplankton quantity and quality. Phytoplankton biomass and composition were examined in Apalachicola Bay, Florida during two summers of contrasting river discharge. The <20 μm autotrophs were the main component (92 ± 3 %; n = 14) of phytoplankton biomass in lower (<25 psu) salinity waters. In these lower salinity waters containing higher dissolved inorganic nutrients, phycocyanin containing cyanobacteria made the greatest contribution to phytoplankton biomass (69 ± 3 %; n = 14) followed by <20 μm eukaryotes (19 ± 1 %; n = 14), and phycoerythrin containing cyanobacteria (4 ± 1 %; n = 14). In waters with salinity from 25 to 35 psu that were located within or in close proximity to the estuary, >20 μm diatoms were an increasingly (20 to 70 %) larger component of phytoplankton biomass. Lower summer river discharges that lead to an areal contraction of lower (5–25 psu) salinity waters composed of higher phytoplankton biomass dominated by small (<20 μm) autotrophs will lead to a concomitant areal expansion of higher (>25 psu) salinity waters composed of relatively lower phytoplankton biomass and a higher percent contribution by >20 μm diatoms. A reduction in summer river discharge that leads to such a change in quantity and quality of estuarine phytoplankton available will result in a reduction in estuarine zooplankton productivity and possibly the productivity of higher trophic levels.

Communicated by: Hans W. Paerl