Alexandrium fundyense cysts in the Gulf of Maine: long-term time series of abundance and distribution, and linkages to past and future blooms. Academic Article uri icon


  • Here we document Alexandrium fundyense cyst abundance and distribution patterns over nine years (1997 and 2004-2011) in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) and identify linkages between those patterns and several metrics of the severity or magnitude of blooms occurring before and after each autumn cyst survey. We also explore the relative utility of two measures of cyst abundance and demonstrate that GOM cyst counts can be normalized to sediment volume, revealing meaningful patterns equivalent to those determined with dry weight normalization. Cyst concentrations were highly variable spatially. Two distinct seedbeds (defined here as accumulation zones with > 300 cysts cm-3) are evident, one in the Bay of Fundy (BOF) and one in mid-coast Maine. Overall, seedbed locations remained relatively constant through time, but their area varied 3-4 fold, and total cyst abundance more than 10 fold among years. A major expansion of the mid-coast Maine seedbed occurred in 2009 following an unusually intense A. fundyense bloom with visible red-water conditions, but that feature disappeared by late 2010. The regional system thus has only two seedbeds with the bathymetry, sediment characteristics, currents, biology, and environmental conditions necessary to persist for decades or longer. Strong positive correlations were confirmed between the abundance of cysts in both the 0-1 and the 0-3 cm layers of sediments in autumn and geographic measures of the extent of the bloom that occurred the next year (i.e., cysts ? blooms), such as the length of coastline closed due to shellfish toxicity or the southernmost latitude of shellfish closures. In general, these metrics of bloom geographic extent did not correlate with the number of cysts in sediments following the blooms (blooms ? cysts). There are, however, significant positive correlations between 0-3 cm cyst abundances and metrics of the preceding bloom that are indicative of bloom intensity or vegetative cell abundance (e.g., cumulative shellfish toxicity, duration of detectable toxicity in shellfish, and bloom termination date). These data suggest that it may be possible to use cyst abundance to empirically forecast the geographic extent of the forthcoming bloom and, conversely, to use other metrics from bloom and toxicity events to forecast the size of the subsequent cyst population as the inoculum for the next year's bloom. This is an important step towards understanding the excystment/encystment cycle in A. fundyense bloom dynamics while also augmenting our predictive capability for this HAB-forming species in the GOM.

publication date

  • May 1, 2014