Articles | Volume 15, issue 8
Research article
19 Apr 2018
Research article |  | 19 Apr 2018

Physico-chemical and biological factors influencing dinoflagellate cyst production in the Cariaco Basin

Manuel Bringué, Robert C. Thunell, Vera Pospelova, James L. Pinckney, Oscar E. Romero, and Eric J. Tappa

Abstract. We present a 2.5-year-long sediment trap record of dinoflagellate cyst production in the Cariaco Basin, off Venezuela (southern Caribbean Sea). The site lies under the influence of wind-driven, seasonal upwelling which promotes high levels of primary productivity during boreal winter and spring. Changes in dinoflagellate cyst production is documented between November 1996 and May 1999 at ∼ 14-day intervals and interpreted in the context of in situ observations of physico-chemical and biological parameters measured at the mooring site.

Dinoflagellate cyst assemblages are diverse (57 taxa) and dominated by cyst taxa of heterotrophic affinity, primarily Brigantedinium spp. (51 % of the total trap assemblage). Average cyst fluxes to the trap are high (17.1  ×  103 cysts m−2 day−1) and show great seasonal and interannual variability. On seasonal timescales, dinoflagellate cyst production responds closely to variations in upwelling strength, with increases in cyst fluxes of several protoperidinioid taxa observed during active upwelling intervals, predominantly Brigantedinium spp. Cyst taxa produced by autotrophic dinoflagellates, in particular Bitectatodinium spongium, also respond positively to upwelling. Several spiny brown cysts contribute substantially to the assemblages, including Echinidinium delicatum (9.7 %) and Echinidinium granulatum (7.3 %), and show a closer affinity to weaker upwelling conditions. The strong El Niño event of 1997/98 appears to have negatively impacted cyst production in the basin with a 1-year lag, and may have contributed to the unusually high fluxes of cysts type Cp (possibly the cysts of the toxic dinoflagellate Cochlodinium polykrikoides sensu Li et al., 2015), with cyst type Cp fluxes up to 11.8  ×  103 cysts m−2 day−1 observed during the weak upwelling event of February–May 1999.

Possible trophic interactions between dinoflagellates and other major planktonic groups are also investigated by comparing the timing and magnitude of cyst production with proxies for phytoplanktonic communities (from photopigment data) and micro- to macrozooplankton abundance indicators (from palynological data) at the site. This work provides new, detailed insights into the ecology of cyst-producing dinoflagellates and will allow for more detailed interpretations of fossil assemblages extracted from sedimentary records in the basin and elsewhere.

Short summary
We document 2.5 yr of dinoflagellate cyst production in the Cariaco Basin using a sediment trap record. Each species' production pattern is interpreted in the context of the physico-chemical (e.g., temperature, nutrients) and biological (other planktonic groups) environment. Most species respond positively to upwelling, but seem to be negatively impacted by an El Niño event with a 1-year lag. This work helps understanding dinoflagellate ecology and interpreting fossil assemblages in sediments.
Final-revised paper