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Niche separation of Baltic Sea cyanobacteria during bloom events by species interactions and autecological preferences

Eigemann, Falk, Schwartke, Marc, Schulz-Vogt, Heide
Harmful algae 2018 v.72 pp. 65-73
Nodularia spumigena, Synechococcus, ecological differentiation, environmental factors, light intensity, photons, poisonous algae, spatial distribution, species diversity, summer, temperature, Baltic Sea
Cyanobacterial blooms regularly occur in the Baltic Sea during the summer months, with filamentous, heterocystous Nodularia spumigena and Dolichospermum sp. and the coccoid picocyanobacterium Synechococcus spp. as important species. Under calm conditions, N. spumigena accumulate at the surface, whereas Dolichospermum sp. and Synechococcus sp. remain at the subsurface, in the upper water layer. This vertical separation allows co-occurring species to compete for the same resources. The factors that determine the vertical distribution within blooms, however, are mostly unknown. The present study examined the growth rates of these three cyanobacterial species in a two-factorial experiment, with temperature (16 and 24 °C) and radiation (38 and 150 μmol photons m−2 s−1) conditions mimicking those at the water surface and directly below. To determine whether interactions between the three species influenced their growth rates (and therewith also their vertical distribution), paired and multi-species cultures were established. In the single-species cultures, the autecological preferences of the species matched the assumed natural occurrence in bloom events: N. spumigena grew best under high and Dolichospermum sp. and Synechococcus sp. under low light conditions (maximum growth rates at the preferred conditions: μ = 0.48 ± 0.017, 0.88 ± 0.092, and 0.67 ± 0.012, respectively). High temperatures were tolerated by N. spumigena, but inhibited the growth of Dolichospermum sp. and Synechococcus sp. These results suggested that the factors resulting in the vertical separation of species within a bloom are species-specific: N. spumigena responded predominantly to irradiance and only slightly to temperature, Dolichospermum sp. was intensely affected by temperature and less by irradiance, and Synechococcus sp. responded more strongly to irradiance than to temperature. The interactions in paired and multi-species cultures revealed beneficial and detrimental effects, depending on species composition and abiotic conditions. Under the environmental conditions in which the three species occur, however, similar interactions resulted in no or only slight inhibition. Our observations demonstrate how autecological preferences together with the avoidance of negative interactions determine the vertical distribution of cyanobacteria during bloom events in the Baltic Sea.