Impact of nitrogen chemical form on the isotope signature and toxicity of a marine dinoflagellate. Academic Article uri icon


  • Despite a global interest in the relationship between harmful algal blooms (HABs) and eutrophication, the impact of natural versus anthropogenic nutrient sources on species composition or toxicity of HABs remains unclear. Stable isotopes are used to identify and track nitrogen (N) sources to water bodies, and thus can be used to ascertain the N source(s) used by the phytoplankton in those systems. To focus this tool for a particular species, the fundamental patterns of N isotope fractionation by that organism must first be understood. While literature is available describing N isotope fractionation by diatoms and coccolithophores, data are lacking regarding dinoflagellates. Here we investigated the effects of N chemical form on isotope fractionation (?) and toxin content using isolates of the autotrophic dinoflagellate, Alexandrium catenella, in single-N and mixed-N experiments. Growth of A. catenella exclusively on nitrate (NO3-), ammonium (NH4+), or urea, resulted in ? of 2.7±1.4‰, 29±9.3‰, or 0.3±0.1‰, respectively, with the lowest cellular toxicity reported during urea utilization. Cells initially utilized NH4+ and urea when exposed to mixed-N medium, and only utilized NO3- after NH4+ decreased below 2-4 ?M. This pattern of N preference was similar across all N treatments, suggesting that there is no effect of preconditioning on N chemical preference by A. catenella. In NO3- and urea-rich environments, the ?15N of Alexandrium catenella would resemble the source(s) of N utilized, supporting this tool's utility as a tracer of N source(s) facilitating bloom formation, however, caution is advisable in NH4+ rich environments where the large ? value could lead to misinterpretation of the signal.

publication date

  • 2018