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MURSYS - Baltic Sea


Phytoplankton development at the coastal station Heiligendamm in 2010

  Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung, Warnemünde
(IOW) (Baltic Sea Research Institute, Warnemünde)


(Dr. Norbert Wasmund, Susanne Busch, Ina Topp, Regina Hansen)

The Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research conducts a coastal monitoring programme with weekly samplings at the sea-bridge Heiligendamm (54°08,55' N; 11°50,60' E; 300  m off shore, 3 m water depth). The Department of Marine Biology analyses the surface samples, taken by means of a bucket, for phytoplankton composition and biomass and for chlorophyll a.

The phytoplankton biomass is determined by microscopical counting (UTERMÖHL method) and the chlorophyll a concentration by ethanol extraction and fluorometric measurement (calculation without correction for pheopigments). Method instructions see

Phytoplankton counting was carried out by use of the counting programme OrgaCount and is based on the HELCOM-biovolume factors (Olenina et al. 2006), which are regularly updated by the Phytoplankton Expert Group of HELCOM. The analytical specifics of the chlorophyll a determination are published by Wasmund et al. (2006). According to the decision of the BLMP-subgroup "Quality Assurance” from 11.9.2008 we show here chlorophyll a data which are not corrected for pheopigments.

Microscopical analysis was not possible in 12 samples because of high sediment portions, caused by wind-induced sediment resuspension at the shallow station. Chlorophyll measurements were possible, except for week 6.

As expected, the phytoplankton biomass was very low in the first few weeks of the year. The chlorophyll a data suggest that during the period of sample shortfall until 9.2.2010 no significant phytoplankton growth occurred. From the 16.2.2010 (Week 7) onwards, diatoms developed as already found in 2009, however not by Thalassiosira spp. but by Rhizosolenia setigera (Image 1) and as usual by Skeletonema costatum.

Image 1: Rhizosolenia setigera (Image: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 37 KB

Image 1: Rhizosolenia setigera (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

In contrast to the year 2009, not only Skeletonema costatum but several diatom species constituted the main components of the bloom, which occurred since week 10. The spring bloom consisted at its peak (16.3.2010, week 11) mainly of Rhizosolenia setigera (801 mg/m³), Skeletonema costatum (787 mg/m³), Chaetoceros wighamii (617 mg/m³) and Thalassiosira spp. (253 mg/m³). Surprising was the spontaneous appearance of the euglenophyte Eutreptiella sp. (350 mg/m³), which was also found in 2008. At the same time, chlorophyll a concentrations reached the annual maximum (12.25 mg/m³). That means: In 2010 we found, just like in 2009, a very early spring bloom which contained 80 % diatom biomass, and it was rather diverse.
The bloom declined quickly by week 13, while primarily heterotrophic dinoflagellates (Protoperidinium pellucidum et spp.; Gymnodiniales) developed.

The diatoms reappeared in week 14./15., accompanied by high biomass of the ciliate Mesodinim rubrum. This second diatom development was at first dominated by Skeletonema costatum (333 mg/m³ in week 15) as expected. Astonishingly, Skeletonema costatum disappeared almost completely by week 15 (13.4.2010) and was replaced by a bloom of Coscinodiscus radiatus (966 mg/m³, Image 2). The diatom bloom broke down completely by the 4.5.2010, but also Mesodinium rubrum was reduced whereas heterotrophic flagellates developed, obviously on the basis of the organic remains of the bloom. On 18.5.2010, Coscinodiscus radiatus (Image 2) dominated again.

Image 2: Coscinodiscus radiatus (Image: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 109 KB

Image 2: Coscinodiscus radiatus (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

It is astonishing that Dictyochophyceen were only weakly developed. They are shown in Figure 1 under the group of Chrysophyceae, which did not exceed 35 mg/m³ in the year 2010. In the years 2007 and 2008, the silicoflagellate Dictyocha speculum even appeared abnormally early. This special situation of the years 2007 and 2008 did not continue in 2009 and 2010.

The quick changes of the dominating species cannot be caused by extreme growth rates but it can be explained by different water bodies containing different species composition drifting along our fixed station. It allows insight into the heterogeneity of the sea area and the diversity in community structure.

From 8.6. to 3.8.2010, the phytoplankton was low in biomass but high in diversity. The short appearance of the potentially toxic Chrysochromulina sp. on 8.6.2010 is noteworthy (Image 3). The spring species Coscinodiscus radiatus and Skeletonema costatum gained again dominance on 22.6.2010 (week 25). The chlorophyll a concentrations exceeded 3 mg/m³ only on 27.7.2010 (week 30) within the period from 8.6. to 3.8.2010, when cyanobacteria reached their summer maximum (Nodularia spumigena: 57 mg/m³; Aphanizomenon sp.: 79 mg/m³). Noteworthy is the occurrence of the Prasinophyte Pyramimonas sp. (Image 4), which is counted among "Others" in Figure 1.

Image 3: Chrysochromulina sp. (Image: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 55 KB

Image 3: Chrysochromulina sp. (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

Bild 4: Pyramimonas sp. (Image: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 52 KB

Image 4: Pyramimonas sp. (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

On 10.8.2010 (Week 32), the next population change occurred: the dinoflagellate Alexandrium pseudogonyaulax (140 mg/m³, Image 5) and the typical summer diatom Dactyliosolen fragilissimus (113 mg/m³) appeared. It was the first identified record of Alexandrium pseudogonyaulax in the IOW's sample history.

Image 5: Alexandrium pseudogonyaulax im Hellfeld und unter Calcofluor-Fluoreszenz (Foto: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 113 KB

Image 5: Alexandrium pseudogonyaulax in bright field and under Calcofluor-fluorescence (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

The typical autumn diatom Coscinodiscus granii became dominant on 17.8.2010, it continued growth besides of Dactyliosolen fragilissimus and stayed the dominant diatom until 21.9.2010 (week 38). The typical dinoflagellate of autumn, Ceratium spp., as well as the diatom Melosira moniliformis developed in parallel. The occurrence of the summer cyanobacteria Nodularia spumigena (236 mg/m³) at such a late date is extremely unusual.

Like in autumn 2009, diatoms also dominated in autumn 2010, whereas bloom-forming dinoflagellates (Ceratium spp.) were almost completely absent. The most important diatoms on 5.10.2010 (week 40) were: Chaetoceros socialis (793 mg/m³, Image 6), Cerataulina pelagica (418  mg/m³), Pseudosolenia calcar-avis (376 mg/m³, Image 7), Pseudo-nitzschia spp. (324 mg/m³) and Chaetoceros curvistus (135 mg/m³). The mass occurrence of Chaetoceros socialis is unusual. Pseudosolenia calcar-avis is new in the IOW's species list. The peak was reached on 12.10.2010 with Cerataulina pelagica (1844 mg/m³), Pseudosolenia calcar-avis (684 mg/m³) and Pseudo-nitzschia spp. (673 mg/m³). This bloom remained at least until 9.11.2010 (week 45). The minima in weeks 43 und 46 must not be taken into consideration for quantitative analyses because microscopical countings were not possible owing to a high share of sediment particles; they were only performed for a qualitative overview. The samples from week 47 onwards were completely not usable for quantitative analyses.

Image 6: Chaetoceros socialis  (Image: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 155 KB

Image 6: Chaetoceros socialis (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

Image 7: Pseudosolenia calcar-avis (Image: S.Busch,, JPG-Graphik: 74 KB

Image 7: Pseudosolenia calcar-avis (Image: S.Busch, IOW)

An unusually late diatom autumn bloom, as found in 2009, could not be confirmed in 2010 because of non-analyzable samples. The relatively high chlorophyll a concentration on 14.12.2010 (week 50) could be an indication of a relatively late bloom. Already in the year 2008, a bloom of Coscinodiscus granii appeared as late as 16.12.08.

If the phenomena of earlier spring blooms and later autumn blooms will be confirmed in future, this indicates a prolongation of the vegetation period, which might be caused by the global tendency of warming.

Olenina, I., Hajdu, S., Andersson, A., Edler, L., Wasmund, N., Busch, S., Göbel, J., Gromisz, S., Huseby, S., Huttunen, M., Jaanus, A., Kokkonen, P., Ledaine, I., Niemkiewicz, E. (2006): Biovolumes and size-classes of phytoplankton in the Baltic Sea. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings No.106, 144pp.

Paper: (
Table: (

Wasmund, N., Topp, I., Schories, D. (2006): Optimising the storage and extraction of chlorophyll samples. Oceanologia 48: 125-144.

Figure 1: Composition of the phytoplankton biomass and concentration of chlorophyll a from 6.1. to 22.12.2009 at sea-bridge Heiligendamm, GIF-Graphik: 55 KB

Figure 1: Composition of the phytoplankton biomass and concentration of chlorophyll a from 5.1. to 21.12.2010 at sea-bridge Heiligendamm.


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