Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 664–679 | Cite as

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

  • J. N. PutlandEmail author
  • B. Mortazavi
  • R. L. Iverson
  • S. W. Wise


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.


Phytoplankton Biomass Composition Picoplankton Salinity Estuary 



This research was made possible in part with a Graduate Research Fellowship award to J.N.P. from the Estuarine Reserves Division, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and in part by a grant from the British Petroleum, Inc./Florida Institute of Oceanography Gulf Oil Spill Prevention, Response and Recovery Program continued as via the Deep-C Consortium. Salinity data for Cat Point and Dry Bar was kindly provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Estuarine Research Reserve System—Wide Monitoring Program. The authors thank the Department of Biology, Florida State University for use of their epifluorescence microscope, the staff at the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve for providing assistance with sampling, and to Brian Dzwonkowski for kindly generating Fig. 3.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. N. Putland
    • 1
    Email author
  • B. Mortazavi
    • 2
    • 3
  • R. L. Iverson
    • 1
  • S. W. Wise
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  3. 3.Dauphin Island Sea LaboratoryDauphin IslandUSA

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