Regeneration and utilization of nutrients during the collapse of red tide of ciliate Mesodinium rubrum: influence on phytoplankton species composition

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Zhang, Y., X. Song, P. J. Harrison, S. Liu, Z. Yu, J. Kan, P. Qian, H. Liu, and K. Yin. 2018. Science China: Earth Sciences 61(10):1384–1396.


High-biomass red tides occur frequently in some semi-enclosed bays of Hong Kong where ambient nutrients are not high enough to support such a high phytoplankton biomass. These high-biomass red tides release massive inorganic nutrients into local waters during their collapse. We hypothesized that the massive inorganic nutrients released from the collapse of red tides would fuel growth of other phytoplankton species. This could influence phytoplankton species composition. We tested the hypothesis using a red tide event caused by Mesodinium rubrum (M. rubrum) in a semi-enclosed bay, Port Shelter. The red tide patch had a cell density as high as 5.0×105 cells L−1, and high chlorophyll a (63.71 μg L−1). Ambient inorganic nutrients (nitrate: NO3 , ammonium: NH4+, phosphate: PO3−4 , silicate: SiO3−4 ) were low both in the red tide patch and the non-red-tide patch (clear waters outside the red tide patch). Nutrient addition experiments were conducted by adding all the inorganic nutrients to water samples from the two patches followed by incubation for 9 days. The results showed that the addition of inorganic nutrients did not sustain high M. rubrum cell density, which collapsed after day 1, and did not drive M. rubrum in the non-red-tide patch sample to the same high-cell density in the red tide patch sample. This confirmed that nutrients were not the driving factor for the formation of this red tide event, or for its collapse. The death of M. rubrum after day 1 released high concentrations of NO3, PO3−4 , SiO3−4 , NH4+, and urea. Bacterial abundance and heterotrophic activity increased, reaching the highest on day 3 or 4, and decreased as cell density of M. rubrum declined. The released nutrients stimulated growth of diatoms, such as Chaetoceros affinis var. circinalis, Thalassiothrix frauenfeldii, and Nitzschia sp., particularly with additions of SiO3−4 treatments, and other species. These results demonstrated that initiation of M. rubrum red tides in the bay was not directly driven by nutrients. However, the massive inorganic nutrients released from the collapse of the red tide could induce a second bloom in low-ambient nutrient water, influencing phytoplankton species composition.