NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Program: Understanding Ecosystem Conditions for Phytoplankton in Kachemak Bay
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My research focuses on the two most common and harmful phytoplankton genera in Kachemak Bay, Alaska, Chaetoceros spp. and Pseudo-nitzschia spp. Chaetoceros spp. can be deadly to fish in high concentrations because they clog and destroy fish’s gills. Pseudo-nitzschia spp. are more dangerous because they produce a deadly toxin, domoic acid, which causes amnesic shellfish poisoning to mammals. I compared these genera to environmental variables to see which parameters affected them the most. The environmental parameters that I focused on were photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), water temperature, salinity, and nutrients because they have been found to influence the presence of harmful phytoplankton species. I found that PAR, orthophosphate, and nitrite+nitrate were significantly correlated with the presence of Chaetoceros, which was also correlated with water temperature in certain instances. Pseudo-nitzschia spp. are significantly correlated to water temperature, PAR, and nitrite+nitrate. Over time, we have seen more and more Pseudo-nitzschia in the bay, possibly caused by temperature change regimes. Increasing temperatures from climate change will lead to changes in species dynamics and competition, which we found, and is expected to lead to more harmful algal blooms, which we saw.