RAPID: Hurricane Impact on Phytoplankton Community Dynamics and Metabolic Response
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Hurricane Harvey is the strongest hurricane to hit the Texas coast in decades and the resulting tidal surges, flooding and terrestrial runoff have had a severe impact on the coastal ocean. The effects on the phytoplankton, the first link in the food chain, may be unprecedented. To determine how the phytoplankton community will respond to such drastic changes in salinity, nutrient inputs, and potential toxins, immediate and continuous sampling is the only way to fully capture the effects and to identify when conditions return to "normal". An automated, continuous phytoplankton imaging instrument that is deployed on the Texas coast records images of the phytoplankton and permits calculation of the abundance of different species. Together with molecular information on the genes that have been "turned on", or expressed, outcomes of this project will help determine the responses of individual types of phytoplankton. Extreme storms are expected to increase in frequency with future climate change, so the responses identified now will be valuable in predicting how such events will affect these primary producers, which in turn support most of the food webs in marine ecosystems, in the future.High temporal resolution observations from the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) have revealed that hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico cause drastic changes in the phytoplankton community structure. The objectives of this RAPID project are: 1) to characterize the dynamics of the phytoplankton species in relation to the environmental variables along the Texas coast; 2) to assess the short and long-term changes in the phytoplankton community; and 3) to identify the strategies of the phytoplankton community for resource acquisition. To accomplish these objectives, this project will utilize IFCB time series to follow phytoplankton community structure during the recovery period from Hurricane Harvey. In addition, two RAPID response cruises (in late September and early October) to sample at 5 sites along a transect from Galveston to Port Aransas, TX. At each station, CTD profiles and water samples from surface and the chlorophyll maximum will be collected for nutrients, carbonate chemistry, and RNA sequencing for metatranscriptomic analysis. Metatranscriptomics can provide an indication of the metabolic strategies employed and functional relationships within the plankton community in response to changes in the environment. The advantage of a metatranscriptomic approach is that the entire molecular response to the environment is captured. So, while the response of phytoplankton to increased nutrient inputs from floodwater runoff is targeted, the responses to other environmental stresses (toxics, hypoxia, acidification) are also captured. Analyses of this time series using multivariate statistical techniques, such as principal component analysis (PCA), and network analysis, a powerful technique for identifying potential interactions among taxa, will provide insights on the environmental factors and metabolic responses structuring the community during the aftermath of the hurricane.