The role of protozoan grazers in harmful algal bloom dynamics : tools for community and grazing analyses
MetadataShow full item record
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are becoming more prevalent throughout the world’s aquatic systems. These blooms have been the subjects of numerous studies because they can cause human health issues and economic impact through fish kills, contaminated shellfish and decreased tourism. Much research has focused on the “bottom-up” aspect of these blooms; namely, the potential role of increased nutrient input into coastal waters from anthropogenic sources causing increased growth in harmful algal species. However, there are also potential “top-down” controls affecting the rate at which harmful algal species are consumed by grazers. The aim of this project was to determine protozoan grazer population fluctuations and their grazing impact on HAB species through field monitoring and laboratory grazing experiments. Protozoan grazers were chosen because their growth rates could potentially keep up with those of HAB species. Declines in grazer populations before the onset of a bloom could be indicative of a release of the HAB from a “top-down” grazing control. Field samples taken during bloom and non-bloom events helped elucidate any microplankton community changes. After establishing that there appear to be changes to the grazer population before and after a bloom, ingestion experiments including direct epifluorescence microscopy and DNA analyses were conducted to determine if it is possible that a chosen protozoan grazer can ingest a HAB species. Finally, experiments were conducted to determine whether the HAB species was a favorable food source for the grazer. Population growth experiments in which grazers are fed a HAB species, 50:50 mixture, or normal culture food source were used to determine the survival and growth rate of the grazer. Although certain ciliates and heterotrophic dinoflagellates were found to feed on HAB species in the lab and in natural bloom samples, the HAB species as a food source produces lower grazer growth rates than on control food. Protozoan grazers may be a more effective control during bloom initiation than after the bloom has been established.