Microphytoplankton variations during coral spawning at Los Roques, Southern Caribbean

Francoise Cabada-Blanco*, Ainhoa Zubillaga, Carolina Bastidas

*Corresponding author for this work

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Phytoplankton drives primary productivity in marine pelagic systems. This is also true for the oligotrophic waters in coral reefs, where natural and anthropogenic sources of nutrients can alter pelagic trophic webs. In this study, microphytoplankton assemblages were characterized for the first time in relation to expected coral spawning dates in the Caribbean. A hierarchical experimental design was used to examine these assemblages in Los Roques archipelago, Venezuela, at various temporal and spatial scales for spawning events in both 2007 and 2008. At four reefs, superficial water samples were taken daily for 9 days after the full moon of August, including days before, during and after the expected days of coral spawning. Microphytoplankton assemblages comprised 100 microalgae taxa at up to 50 cells per mL (mean ± 8 SD) and showed temporal and spatial variations related to the coral spawning only in 2007. However, chlorophyll a concentrations increased during and after the spawning events in both years, and this was better matched with analyses of higher taxonomical groups (diatoms, cyanophytes and dinoflagellates), that also varied in relation to spawning times in 2007 and 2008, but asynchronously among reefs. Heterotrophic and mixotrophic dinoflagellates increased in abundance, correlating with a decrease of the diatom Cerataulina pelagica and an increase of the diatom Rhizosolenia imbricata. These variations occurred during and after the coral spawning event for some reefs in 2007. For the first time, a fresh-water cyanobacteria species of Anabaena was ephemerally found (only 3 days) in the archipelago, at reefs closest to human settlements. Variability among reefs in relation to spawning times indicated that reef-specific processes such as water residence time, re-mineralization rates, and benthic-pelagic coupling can be relevant to the observed patterns. These results suggest an important role of microheterotrophic grazers in re-mineralization of organic matter in coral reef waters and highlight the importance of assessing compositional changes of larger size fractions of the phytoplankton when evaluating primary productivity and nutrient fluxes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1747
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • microphytoplankton
  • coral spawning
  • reef-building corals
  • plankton community composition


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