Importance of cysts in the population dynamics of the red tide flagellate Heterosigma akashiwo (Raphidophyceae)
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To elucidate roles of cysts in occurrences of Heterosigma akashiwo blooms, cyst dynamics were studied in northern Hiroshima Bay, the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, where H. akashiwo regularly forms red tide in June. Monthly measurements of seasonal changes in the densities of vegetative cells of H. akashiwo and their germinable cysts in surface sediments (top 1-cm layer) were made for 2 years at three stations. Vegetative cells of H. akashiwo could be detected from April through December throughout the water column, and the existence of vegetative cells was confirmed in surface waters even in winter after incubation of sampled seawater in culture medium. Germinable cysts, enumerated by the extinction dilution method, existed in sediments in all seasons, even before and after the seasonal bloom. The effects of incubation temperature on the germination of natural cysts of H. akashiwo in sediments were examined. Germination was not observed at 5 °C, was low at 10 °C, while it increased at 15 °C, and maintained a high level to 25 °C. The bottom water temperature reached 15 °C (suitable for the germination of cysts) and the surface about 18 °C or more (suitable for the growth of vegetative cells) 2 to 3 weeks before the blooms. The dark survival of H. akashiwo cysts was tested, and it was found that the cysts were viable for at least 650 d at 11 °C, and for 165 d at 25 °C, indicating a significant role of cysts in the survival during winter and summer seasons. The cysts presumably also play an important role in seeding primary populations into water columns when the bottom water reaches a suitable temperature (around 15 °C); thereafter the populations develop with great annual regularity to bloom in June. These results suggest that initiation of H. akashiwo red tides in the Seto Inland Sea could be triggered by bottom water temperature.
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