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Quantitative Response of Alexandrium catenella Cyst Dormancy to Cold Exposure

Fischer, Alexis D., Brosnahan, Michael L., Anderson, Donald M.
Protist 2018 v.169 no.5 pp. 645-661
Alexandrium catenella, algal blooms, chilling requirement, climate, cold stress, dormancy, frost, germination, habitats, horticulture, insect development, paralytic shellfish poisoning, prediction, spring, temperature, Massachusetts
Many dinoflagellate cysts experience dormancy, a reversible state that prevents germination during unfavorable periods. Several of these species also cause harmful algal blooms (HABs), so a quantitative understanding of dormancy cycling is desired for better prediction and mitigation of bloom impacts. This study examines the effect of cold exposure on the duration of dormancy in Alexandrium catenella, a HAB dinoflagellate that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Mature, dormant cysts from Nauset Marsh (Cape Cod, MA USA) were stored at low but above freezing temperatures for up to six months. Dormancy status was then determined at regular intervals using a germination assay. Dormancy timing was variable among temperatures and was shorter in colder treatments, but the differences collapse when temperature and duration of storage are scaled by chilling-units (CU), a common horticultural predictor of plant and insect development in response to weather. Cysts within Nauset meet a well-defined chilling requirement by late January, after which they are poised to germinate with the onset of favorable conditions in spring. Cysts thus modulate their dormancy cycles in response to their temperature history, enhancing the potential for new blooms and improving this species’ adaptability to both unseasonable weather and new habitats/climate regimes.