Environmental controls on phytoplankton community composition in the Thames plume, UK

Keith Weston, Naomi Greenwood, Liam Fernand, David J. Pearce, David B. Sivyer

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The aim of this study was to investigate controls on the phytoplankton community composition and biogeochemistry of the estuarine plume zone of the River Thames, U.K. using an instrumented moored buoy for in situ measurements and preserved sample collection, and laboratory-based measurements from samples collected at the same site. Instrumentation on the moored buoy enabled high frequency measurements of a suite of environmental variables including in situ chlorophyll, water-column integrated irradiance, macronutrients throughout an annual cycle for 2001 e.g. nitrate and silicate, and phytoplankton biomass and species composition. The Thames plume region acts as a conduit for fluvial nutrients into the wider southern North Sea with typical winter concentrations of 45 µM nitrate, 17 µM silicate and 2 µM phosphate measured. The spring bloom resulted from water-column integrated irradiance increasing above 60 W h m- 2 d- 1 and was initially dominated by a diatom bloom mainly composed of Nitzschia sp. and Odontella sinesis. The spring bloom then switched after ~ 30 days to become dominated by the flagellate Phaeocystis reaching a maximum chlorophyll concentration of 37.8 µg L- 1. During the spring bloom there were high numbers of the heterotrophic dinoflagellates Gyrodinium spirale and Katodinium glaucum that potentially grazed the phytoplankton bloom. This diatom-flagellate switch was predicted to be due to a combination of further increasing water-column integrated irradiance > 100 W h m- 2 d- 1 and/or silicate reaching potentially limiting concentrations (< 1 µM). Post spring bloom, diatom dominance of the lower continuous summer phytoplankton biomass occurred despite the low silicate concentrations (Av. 0.7 µM from June-August). Summer diatom dominance, generally due to Guinardia delicatula, was expected to be as a result of microzooplankton grazing, dominated by the heterotrophic dinoflagellate Noctiluca scintillans, controlling 0.7-5.0 µm 'flagellate' fraction of the phytoplankton community with grazing rates up to 178% of 'flagellate' growth rate. The Thames plume region was therefore shown to be an active region of nutrient and phytoplankton processing and transport to the southern North Sea. The use of a combination of moorings and ship-based sampling was essential in understanding the factors influencing nutrient transport, phytoplankton biomass and species composition in this shelf sea plume region.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-270
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Sea Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


  • Macronutrients
  • Microzooplankton
  • Phaeocystis
  • Thames Estuary
  • Thames Plume
  • North Sea

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