Contrasting oceanographic conditions and phytoplankton communities on the east and west coasts of Australia

P.A. Thompson, P. Bonham, Anya Waite, L.A. Clementson, N. Cherukuru, C. Hassler, M.A. Doblin

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    The composition and dynamics of the phytoplankton communities and hydrographic factors that control them are described for eastern and western Australia with a focus on the Eastern Australian Current (EAC) and Leeuwin Current (LC) between 27.5 degrees and 34.5 degrees S latitude. A total of 1685 samples collected from 1996 to 2010 and analysed for pigments by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) showed the average TChla (monovinyl + divinyl chlorophyll a) concentration on the west coast to be 0.28 +/- 0.16 mu g L-1 while it was 0.58 +/- 1.4 mu g L-1 on the east coast. Both coasts showed significant decreases in the proportions of picoplankton and relatively more nanoplankton and microplankton with increasing latitude. On both coasts the phytoplankton biomass (by SeaWiFS) increased with the onset of winter. At higher latitudes (> 27.5 degrees S) the southeast coast developed a spring bloom (September) when the mean monthly, surface chlorophyll a (chla) concentration (by SeaWiFS) was 48% greater than on the south west coast. In this southern region (27.5-34.5 degrees S) Synechococcus was the dominant taxon with 60% of the total biomass in the southeast (SE) and 43% in the southwest (SW). Both the SE and SW regions had similar proportions of haptophytes; similar to 14% of the phytoplankton community. The SW coast had relatively more pelagophytes, prasinophytes, cryptophytes, chlorophytes and less bacillariophytes and dinophytes. These differences in phytoplankton biomass and community composition reflect the differences in seasonality of the 2 major boundary currents, the influence this has on the vertical stability of the water column and the average availability of nutrients in the euphotic zone. Seasonal variation in mixed layer depth and upwelling on the west coast appears to be suppressed by the Leeuwin Current. The long-term depth averaged (0-100 m) nitrate concentration on the west coast was only similar to 14% of the average concentration on the east coast. Redfield ratios for NO3:SiO2:PO4 were 6.5:11.9:1 on the east coast and 2.2:16.2:1 on the west coast. Thus new production (nitrate based) on the west coast was likely to be substantially more limited than on the eastcoast. Short term (hourly) rates of vertical mixing were greater on the east coast. The more stable water column on the west coast produced deeper subsurface chlorophyll a maxima with a 25% greater proportion of picoeukaryotes. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)645-663
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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