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Phytoplankton composition in the subtropical coastal shelf environment of Cape Canaveral, Florida

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The abundance and composition of the phytoplankton community off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida was examined from Fall 2013 to Summer 2015. The region is a shallow shelf environment. Water samples were collected quarterly at 24 sites from the surface and bottom of the water column; temperature and nutrient concentrations were determined. Photoautotrophic picoplanktonic prokaryotes were consistently important in terms of numerical abundance and biomass throughout the study. Among the cyanobacteria, a surface bloom of the nitrogen-fixing filamentous species Trichodesmium was observed in Fall 2013. Dinoflagellates and diatoms were also major contributors to phytoplankton biomass. Many of the dominant dinoflagellates were mixotrophic or heterotrophic species. Nanoplanktonic eukaryotic algae were also periodically an important group in terms of biomass, such as prasinophytes (Chlorophyta). No consistent and reoccurring spatial patterns were observed, likely due to the dynamic water circulation in the open Cape Canaveral shelf environment. Depth-related differences in biomass were observed for dinoflagellates and diatoms. Dinoflagellate biomass was on average higher in surface samples, related to their motility. Conversely, diatom biomass was on average higher in bottom waters, reflecting the negative buoyancy of most species and the potential for re-suspension of cells from the sediment surface. The strong increase in the importance of photoautotrophic picoplanktonic prokaryotes biomass observed in Year 2 of the study may reflect the influence of high rainfall resulting from El NiƱo conditions on nutrient loads from regional land masses, as indicated by increases in phosphorus concentrations.
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Affiliations: Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program, S.F.R.C, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32653

Appeared or available online: May 8, 2020

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