Suppression of the 2010 Alexandrium fundyense bloom by changes in physical, biological, and chemical properties of the Gulf of Maine

D. J. McGillicuddy Jr, D. W. Townsend, R. He, B. A. Keafer, J. L. Kleindinst, Y. Li, J. P. Manning, D. G. Mountain, M. A. Thomas and D. M. Anderson

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(6), 2011, 2411-2426 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.6.2411

ABSTRACT: For the period 2005–2009, the abundance of resting cysts in bottom sediments from the preceding autumn was a first-order predictor of the overall severity of spring–summer blooms of Alexandrium fundyense in the western Gulf of Maine and southern New England. Cyst abundance off mid-coast Maine was significantly higher in autumn 2009 than it was preceding a major regional bloom in 2005. A seasonal ensemble forecast was computed using a range of forcing conditions for the period 2004–2009, suggesting that a large bloom was likely in the western Gulf of Maine in 2010. This did not materialize, perhaps because environmental conditions in spring–summer 2010 were not favorable for growth of A. fundyense. Water mass anomalies indicate a regional-scale change in circulation with direct influence on A. fundyense's niche. Specifically, near-surface waters were warmer, fresher, more stratified, and had lower nutrients than during the period of observations used to construct the ensemble forecast. Moreover, a weaker-than-normal coastal current lessened A. fundyense transport into the western Gulf of Maine and Massachusetts Bay. Satellite ocean color observations indicate the 2010 spring phytoplankton bloom was more intense than usual. Early season nutrient depletion may have caused a temporal mismatch with A. fundyense's endogenous clock that regulates the timing of cyst germination. These findings highlight the difficulties of ecological forecasting in a changing oceanographic environment, and underscore the need for a sustained observational network to drive such forecasts.

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