FCE LTER Journal Articles


The role of dissolved organic matter bioavailability in promoting phytoplankton blooms in Florida Bay


The clear, shallow, oligotrophic waters of Florida Bay are characterized by low phytoplankton biomass, yet periodic cyanobacteria and diatom blooms do occur. We hypothesized that allochthonous dissolved organic matter (DOM) was providing a subsidy to the system in the form of bound nutrients. Water from four bay sites was incubated under natural light and dark conditions with enrichments of either DOM ( > 1 kD, 2×DOM) or inorganic nutrients (N+P). Samples were analyzed for bacterial numbers, bacterial production, phytoplankton biomass, phytoplankton community structure, and production, nutrients, and alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity. The influence of 2×DOM enrichment on phytoplankton biomass developed slowly during the incubations and was relatively small compared to nutrient additions. Inorganic nutrient additions resulted in an ephemeral bloom characterized initially as cyanobacterial and brown algae but which changed to dinoflagellate and/or brown algae by day six. The DIN:TP ratio decreased 10-fold in the N+P treatments as the system progressed towards N limitation. This ratio did not change significantly for 2×DOM treatments. In addition, these experiments indicated that both autotrophic and heterotrophic microbial populations in Florida Bay may fluctuate in their limitation by organic and inorganic nutrient availability. Both N+P and 2×DOM enrichments revealed significant and positive response in bioavailability of dissolved organic carbon (BDOC). Potential BDOC ranged from 1.1 to 35.5%, with the most labile forms occurring in Whipray Basin. BDOC at all sites was stimulated by the 2×DOM addition. Except for Duck Key, BDOC at all sites was also stimulated by the addition of N+P. BDOC was lower in the dry season than in the wet season (5.56% vs. 16.86%). This may be explained by the distinct chemical characteristics of the DOM produced at different times of year. Thus, both the heterotrophic and autotrophic microbial communities in Florida Bay are modulated by bioavailability of DOM. This has ramifications for the fate of DOM from the Everglades inputs, implicating DOM bioavailability as a contributing factor in regulating the onset, persistence, and composition of phytoplankton blooms.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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