Phytoplankton community dynamics within peritidal pools associated with living stromatolites at the freshwater–marine interface
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Recently-discovered peritidal stromatolite ecosystems in South Africa form at the interface of freshwater seeps and the ocean intertidal zone, sharing several similarities with both tidal pool and estuarine ecosystems. While the overall ecology of tidal rock pools has been well studied, the dynamics of the phytoplankton assemblage have been comparatively neglected. In addition, there are no studies to date which describe the dynamics of phytoplankton within a habitat associated with stromatolites. The aim of this study was to investigate the coarse-scale phytoplankton community composition of a series of peritidal pools associated with living stromatolites, using a spectral fluorescence analysis tool, in relation to source-specific drivers related to both freshwater and marine forces. Three sites were sampled monthly from January to December 2014. Physico-chemical, biotic and meteorological parameters were recorded to assess some of the factors which might influence the phytoplankton size-fractionation and community composition using a generalised linear modelling approach. Results indicate that fresh or marine pool state, temporal differences associated with season, macronutrients (N and P), and benthic microalgal biomass are important drivers of the phytoplankton assemblages. Specifically, a transition from fresh to marine pool conditions resulted in an increased abundance of smaller phytoplankton size fractions and a shift from Chlorophyta and Cyanophyta to Bacillariophyta and Cryptophyta. Overall, the community was dominated by Chlorophyta and Bacillariophyta. There was consistency between the drivers and composition of the phytoplankton community compared to those from the few other comparable published studies. Furthermore, this study demonstrates a system which is dominated by benthic rather than pelagic microalgae in terms of biomass, thereby supporting the persistence of actively accreting stromatolites.
KeywordsTidal rock pool Primary production Biomass Estuary Extant microbialite Microphytobenthos
The authors are grateful to the numerous assistants who helped in the field and laboratory. This research is funded by the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, who also provided a bursary to GMR. Any opinion, finding, conclusion or recommendation expressed in this material is that of the authors and the NRF does not accept any liability in this regard.
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