Is inorganic nutrient enrichment a driving force for the formation of red tides? A case study of the dinoflagellate Scrippsiella trochoidea in an embayment
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Red tides (high biomass phytoplankton blooms) have frequently occurred in Hong Kong waters, butmost red tides occurred in waters which are not very eutrophic. For example, Port Shelter, a semi-enclosed bay in the northeast of Hong Kong, is one of hot spots for red tides. Concentrations of ambient inorganic nutrients (e.g. N, P), are not high enough to form the high biomass of chlorophyll a (chl a) in a red tide when chl a is converted to its particulate organic nutrient (N) (which should equal the inorganic nutrient, N). When a red tide of the dinoflagellate Scrippsiella trochoidea occurred in the bay, we found that the red tide patch along the shore had a high cell density of 15,000 cells ml 1, and high chl a (56 mg l 1), and pH reached 8.6 at the surface (8.2 at the bottom), indicating active photosynthesis in situ. Ambient inorganic nutrients (NO3, PO4, SiO4, and NH4) were all low in the waters and deep waters surrounding the red tide patch, suggesting that the nutrients were not high enough to support the high chl a >50 mg l 1 in the red tide. Nutrient addition experiments showed that the addition of all of the inorganic nutrients to a nonred-tide water sample containing low concentrations of Scrippsiella trochoidea did not produce cell density of Scrippsiella trochoidea as high as in the red tide patch, suggesting that nutrients were not an initializing factor for this red tide. During the incubation of the red tide water sample without any nutrient addition, the phytoplankton biomass decreased gradually over 9 days. However, with a N addition, the phytoplankton biomass increased steadily until day 7, which suggested that nitrogen addition was able to sustain the high biomass of the red tide for a week with and without nutrients. In contrast, the red tide in the bay disappeared on the sampling day when the wind direction changed. These results indicated that initiation, maintenance and disappearance of the dinoflagellate Scrippsiella trochoidea red tide in the bay were not directly driven by changes in nutrients. Therefore, how nutrients are linked to the formation of red tides in coastal waters need to be further examined, particularly in relation to dissolved organic nutrients.