Fatty Acids to Quantify Phytoplankton Functional Groups and Their Spatiotemporal Dynamics in a Highly Turbid Estuary

  • José-Pedro CañavateEmail author
  • Stefanie van Bergeijk
  • Inmaculada Giráldez
  • Enrique González-Ortegón
  • César Vílas


Phytoplankton community composition expresses estuarine functionality and its assessment can be improved by implementing novel quantitative fatty acid–based procedures. Fatty acids have similar potential to pigments for quantifying phytoplankton functional groups but have been far less applied. A recently created dataset containing vast information on fatty acids of phytoplankton taxonomic groups was used as reference to quantify phytoplankton functional groups in the yet undescribed Guadalquivir River Estuary. Twelve phytoplankton groups were quantitatively distinguished by iterative matrix factor analysis of seston fatty acid signatures in this turbid estuary. Those phytoplankton groups including species unfeasible for visual identification (coccoid or microflagellated cells) could be quantified when using fatty acids. Conducting monthly matrix factor analyses over a period of 2 years and the full salinity range of the estuary indicated that diatoms dominated about half of the phytoplankton community spatiotemporally. The abundance of Cyanobacteria and Chlorophytes was inversely related to salinity and little affected by seasonality. Euglenophytes were also more abundant at lower salinity, increasing their presence in autumn–winter. Coccolithophores and Dinophytes contributed more to phytoplankton community at higher salinity and remained little affected by seasonality. Multivariate canonical analysis indicated that the structure of the estuarine phytoplankton community was most influenced by salinity; secondly influenced by water temperature, irradiance, and river flow; and unaffected by nutrients. Fatty acids are especially suited for phytoplankton community research in high turbid estuaries and generate outcomes in synergy with those derived from classical pigment assessments.


CHEMTAX Estuary FASTAR Fatty acids Phytoplankton Quantitative structure 


Funding Information

This work was supported by projects financed by the European Fisheries Fund (2007–2013) and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (2014–2020) and by project P11-RNM-7467 executed through the Agriculture and Fisheries and Science Departments of the Government of Andalusia.

Supplementary material

12237_2019_629_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.8 mb)
Figure S1 Relative cell abundance after microscopic identification of phytoplankton taxonomic groups in the GRE water samples obtained along the salinity gradient during winter, spring, summer and autumn. (PDF 4928 kb)
12237_2019_629_Fig9_ESM.png (163 kb)
Figure S2

Percent contribution to phytoplankton community of the most represented taxonomic groups inferred from FASTAR Bayesian analysis. Homogeneous salinity groups within each season are denoted by the same low case letter and differences among seasons are depicted with capital letters. (PNG 163 kb)

High resolution image (TIF 1361 kb)
12237_2019_629_Fig10_ESM.png (140 kb)
Figure S3

Percent contribution to phytoplankton community of those least represented taxonomic groups inferred from FASTAR Bayesian analysis. Homogeneous salinity groups within each season are denoted by the same low case letter and differences among seasons are depicted with capital letters. (PNG 140 kb)

High resolution image (TIF 1131 kb)
12237_2019_629_MOESM4_ESM.xlsx (137 kb)
Table S1 Fatty acid profile of seston samples from four different salinity ranges in the GRE during Winter (W), Spring (SP), Summer (SU) and Autumn (A). Values are the mean of three analytical replicates and are expressed as percent of the total identified fatty acids. (XLSX 136 kb)
12237_2019_629_MOESM5_ESM.xlsx (89 kb)
Table S2 Reference fatty acid ratio and mean ± sd matrices used to infer phytoplankton community structure in GRE seston samples. (XLSX 88 kb)
12237_2019_629_MOESM6_ESM.xlsx (42 kb)
Table S3 Mean and standard deviation of fatty acid profile (percent of total fatty acids) from GRE samples centrifuged in a continuous centrifuge and their corresponding particulate matter collected in the outflowing water flow. (XLSX 41 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IFAPA Centro El Toruño, Andalusia Research and Training Institute for Fisheries and AgricultureEl Puerto de Santa MaríaSpain
  2. 2.Chemistry DepartmentUniversity of HuelvaHuelvaSpain
  3. 3.Instituto de Ciencias Marinas de AndalucíaNational Spanish Research CouncilPuerto RealSpain

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