Variability in phytoplankton pigment biomass and taxonomic composition over tidal cycles in a salt marsh estuary




Wetz, Michael S.
Hayes, Kenneth C.
Lewitus, Alan J.
Wolny, Jennifer L.
White, David L.


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Tidal flow causes high temporal variability in environmental properties that impact ecosystem dynamics. Microbes such as phytoplankton are especially susceptible to tidal advection and mixing, and understanding their role in estuarine food webs and biogeochemical cycles requires information on their biomass and taxonomic composition over short time scales (e.g. tidal cycles). We conducted a survey of phytoplankton pigment biomass and taxonomic composition over complete tidal cycles in 2 salt marsh creeks on 5 sampling occasions from July to September 2000, and assessed environmental factors regulating phytoplankton properties. Tidal input of low chl a water combined with phytoplankton losses (microzooplankton grazing, oyster grazing, settling) caused large decreases in phytoplankton biomass (by 47 to 51% on average) on the flood tide, and also influenced the taxonomic composition. Depending on sampling date, pennate diatoms or flagellates were primarily reduced on the flood tide. One sampling date followed a heavy rain event, and was marked by substantial increases in tidal creek nutrient concentrations and reduced microzooplankton grazing rates, emphasizing the need to consider the combined influences of nutrients and grazing in explaining bloom formation following rain events. The high tidal variability in phytoplankton properties suggests that strict attention to tidal phase is needed in determining long-term trends or inter-estuary comparisons in phytoplankton biomass, and primary production in tidally-driven estuaries.



Phytoplankton, Estuaries, Tidal cycles, Grazing, Diatoms, Storms




Wetz, M.S., K.C. Hayes, A.J. Lewitus, J.L. Wolny, and D.L. White. 2006. Variability in phytoplankton pigment biomass and taxonomic composition over tidal cycles in a salt marsh estuary. Marine Ecology Progress Series 320: 109-120