Research Reveals New Insights into Algae Mystery
A study by National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science researchers posits a new theory to help explain a long-standing puzzle in plankton ecology: despite limited nutrients, why is there such a high diversity of microscopic algae species?
The study reveals that competing microalgal species are subject to evolutionary tradeoffs between cellular attributes that promote growth and reproduction (small size and high investment in nutrient acquisition) and attributes that minimize mortality (large size and greater investment in mechanisms that minimize predation, including toxin production).
Due to these tradeoffs, algae species adapted to living in water with few nutrients grow slowly, but tend defend themselves with toxins, such as Florida’s potent red tide species Karenia brevis. The tradeoffs promote algal species diversity which in turn supports ecosystem stability. However, they also result in more toxic red tides.
The new theory provides another framework to help develop next generation computer models that predict the impact of nutrient pollution and climate change on marine ecosystems and the incidence and toxicity of harmful algal blooms. The researchers presented these insights at an invited talk at the NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Centers Monster Jam seminar series on October 4, 2012.