Science China Earth Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 10, pp 1384–1396 | Cite as

Regeneration and utilization of nutrients during collapse of a Mesodinium rubrum red tide and its influence on phytoplankton species composition

  • Yafeng Zhang
  • Xiuxian SongEmail author
  • Paul J. Harrison
  • Sheng Liu
  • Zhiming Yu
  • Jinjun Kan
  • Peiyuan Qian
  • Hao LiuEmail author
  • Kedong YinEmail author
Research Paper


High-biomass red tides occur frequently in some semi-enclosed bays of Hong Kong where ambient nutrients are not high enough to support such a high phytoplankton biomass. These high-biomass red tides release massive inorganic nutrients into local waters during their collapse. We hypothesized that the massive inorganic nutrients released from the collapse of red tides would fuel growth of other phytoplankton species. This could influence phytoplankton species composition. We tested the hypothesis using a red tide event caused by Mesodinium rubrum (M. rubrum) in a semi-enclosed bay, Port Shelter. The red tide patch had a cell density as high as 5.0×105 cells L−1, and high chlorophyll a (63.71 μg L−1). Ambient inorganic nutrients (nitrate: \(\rm{NO}_3^-\), ammonium: \(\rm{NH}_4^+\), phosphate: \(\rm{PO}_4^{3-}\), silicate: \(\rm{SiO}_4^{3-}\)) were low both in the red tide patch and the non-red-tide patch (clear waters outside the red tide patch). Nutrient addition experiments were conducted by adding all the inorganic nutrients to water samples from the two patches followed by incubation for 9 days. The results showed that the addition of inorganic nutrients did not sustain high M. rubrum cell density, which collapsed after day 1, and did not drive M. rubrum in the non-red-tide patch sample to the same high-cell density in the red tide patch sample. This confirmed that nutrients were not the driving factor for the formation of this red tide event, or for its collapse. The death of M. rubrum after day 1 released high concentrations of \(\rm{NO}_3^-\), \(\rm{PO}_4^{3-}\), \(\rm{SiO}_4^{3-}\), \(\rm{NH}_4^+\), and urea. Bacterial abundance and heterotrophic activity increased, reaching the highest on day 3 or 4, and decreased as cell density of M. rubrum declined. The released nutrients stimulated growth of diatoms, such as Chaetoceros affinis var. circinalis, Thalassiothrix frauenfeldii, and Nitzschia sp., particularly with additions of \(\rm{SiO}_4^{3-}\) treatments, and other species. These results demonstrated that initiation of M. rubrum red tides in the bay was not directly driven by nutrients. However, the massive inorganic nutrients released from the collapse of the red tide could induce a second bloom in low-ambient nutrient water, influencing phytoplankton species composition.


Red tides Species composition Nutrients Regeneration Mesodinium rubrum 


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We acknowledge Sam Cheung and Mandy Tsoi for providing the assistance during field sampling and the nutrient addition experiments. This study was supported by the Guangdong-National Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. U1701247) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 91328203) and the International Science and Technology Cooperation Program of Guangdong (Grant No. 2013B051000042). Xiuxian Song was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 50339040 & 40025614).


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine SciencesSun Yat-Sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Marine Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Institute of OceanologyChinese Academy of SciencesQingdaoChina
  3. 3.Department of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Key Laboratory of Tropical Marine Environmental Dynamics, South China Sea Institute of OceanologyChinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouChina
  5. 5.Microbiology DivisionStroud Water Research CenterAvondaleUSA
  6. 6.Division of Life ScienceHong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong KongChina

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