Phytoplankton succession in recurrently fluctuating environments. Academic Article uri icon


  • Coastal marine systems are affected by seasonal variations in biogeochemical and physical processes, sometimes leading to alternating periods of reproductive growth limitation within an annual cycle. Transitions between these periods can be sudden or gradual. Human activities, such as reservoir construction and interbasin water transfers, influence these processes and can affect the type of transition between resource loading conditions. How such human activities might influence phytoplankton succession is largely unknown. Here, we employ a multispecies, multi-nutrient model to explore how nutrient loading switching mode might affect phytoplankton succession. The model is based on the Monod-relationship, predicting an instantaneous reproductive growth rate from ambient inorganic nutrient concentrations whereas the limiting nutrient at any given time was determined by Liebig's Law of the Minimum. When these relationships are combined with population loss factors, such as hydraulic displacement of cells associated with inflows, a characterization of a species' niche can be achieved through application of the R* conceptual model, thus enabling an ecological interpretation of modeling results. We found that the mode of reversal in resource supply concentrations had a profound effect. When resource supply reversals were sudden, as expected in systems influenced by pulsed inflows or wind-driven mixing events, phytoplankton were characterized by alternating succession dynamics, a phenomenon documented in inland water bodies of temperate latitudes. When resource supply reversals were gradual, as expected in systems influenced by seasonally developing wet and dry seasons, or annually occurring periods of upwelling, phytoplankton dynamics were characterized by mirror-image succession patterns. This phenomenon has not been reported previously in plankton systems but has been observed in some terrestrial plant systems. These findings suggest that a transition from alternating to "mirror-image" succession patterns might arise with continued coastal zone development, with crucial implications for ecosystems dependent on time-sensitive processes, e.g., spawning events and migration patterns.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 2.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Roelke, D. L., & Spatharis, S.

citation count

  • 27

complete list of authors

  • Roelke, Daniel L||Spatharis, Sofie

editor list (cited editors)

  • Chapman, M.

publication date

  • March 2015