The mysterious red tide toxin that has killed a record number of manatees and brought countless dead fish to Southwest Florida beaches over the past few months could finally have an explanation: The algae that produce the toxin are hungry.
A significant new study of the algae, Karenia Brevis (sic), suggests that the organisms release more toxin when they do not have enough nutrients to keep growing.
The toxin is a defense mechanism against zooplankton. Opportunistic plankton feed when the plant is not getting enough nitrogen and phosphorous – the same ingredients in many fertilizers – say researchers with North Carolina State University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
Note: This article is about our research paper on algal bloom toxin defenses published in PLOS ONE last week.