Environmental influences on the qualitative and quantitative composition of phytoplankton and zooplankton in North African coastal lagoons
Within the framework of the international research project MELMARINA, seasonal dynamics of plankton communities in three North African coastal lagoons (Merja Zerga, Ghar El Melh, and Lake Manzala) were investigated. The sampling period extended from July 2003 to September 2004 with the aim of evaluating hydrological and other influences on the structure, composition and space-time development of these communities in each lagoon. Phytoplankton in Merja Zerga showed a quasi-permanent predominance of marine diatoms in the open sea station and in the marine inlet channel. Dinoflagellates were abundant in summer and early autumn in the marine inlet and extended into the central lagoon station. In Ghar El Melh, marine species (especially diatoms and dinoflagellates) dominated despite occasional winter inflows of freshwater. In Lake Manzala, freshwater species generally predominated and the planktonic communities were comparatively very diverse. Chlorophyceae contributed 39% of the total species recorded and diatoms and cyanophyceans were also common; the Dinophyceae, Euglenophyceae, Chrysophyceae and Cryptophyceae less so. Zooplankton communities in both Ghar El Melh and Merja Zerga were dominated by marine copepods. Rotifera, Copepoda, Ostracoda, and Cladocera were recorded in both lagoons as were meroplanktonic larvae of Polychaeta, Cirripedia, Mysidacea and Gastropoda and free living nematodes. Ghar El Melh was the more productive of these two lagoons with spring and early summer being the productive seasons. Zooplankton communities in Lake Manzala were generally dominated by rotifers and highest zooplankton abundances occurred in April (2003). Sampling stations near the marine inlets showed the highest diversity and the zooplankton communities showed considerable spatial variation within this large lagoon. The three lagoons represent very different water bodies contrasted strongly in terms of tidal effects and freshwater availability. Yet, there are some similarities in ecosystem structure. Space-time development of the plankton communities was similar especially in Merja Zerga and Ghar El Melh. Species abundances and specific diversities indicated that seasonal changes in salinity and nutrient concentrations were the main influential factors. Lake Manzala was the most productive lagoon and all the three sites supported toxic algal species. Relatively low plankton biomass in Merja Zerga and Ghar El Melh probably resulted from a combination of factors including highly episodic nutrient inputs, light suppression (by turbidity) and nutrient competition with benthic algae. Water quality variables were largely driven by the hydrological regime specific to each lagoon. Nutrient enrichment and, particularly for Lake Manzala, sea level rise threaten the sustainability of the planktonic ecosystems in all three lagoons.
KeywordsCoastal lagoons Water chemistry Plankton Hydrology Monitoring
The MELMARINA Project was financed by the EU Framework V INCO-Med Programme under their Grant No. ICA3-CT2002-10009. The authors acknowledge the assistance of all the partner institutions involved in this project. The generous help provided by the enthusiastic field teams from each of the countries in North Africa, where the studies were conducted is also duly acknowledged. Several individuals, in particular, Dr A. Berraho and Dr. M. Serghini (INRH), Dr S. Duvail and Ms C. Chambers (UCL), Dr S. Zaghloul (NARSS), Mr M. Mansour (Merja Zerga), R. M’Rabet (INSTM) also deserve the authors’ gratitude for their special contributions to the success of this study.
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