Characterisation of a major phytoplankton bloom in the River Thames (UK) using flow cytometry and high performance liquid chromatography

H.L. Moorhouse, D.S. Read, S. McGowan, M. Wagner, C. Roberts, L.K. Armstrong, D.J.E. Nicholls, H.D. Wickham, M.G. Hutchins, M.J. Bowes (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Recent river studies have observed rapid phytoplankton dynamics, driven by diurnal cycling and short-term responses to storm events, highlighting the need to adopt new high-frequency characterisation methods to understand these complex ecological systems. This study utilised two such analytical methods; pigment analysis by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and cell counting by flow cytometry (FCM), alongside traditional chlorophyll spectrophotometry and light microscopy screening, to characterise the major phytoplankton bloom of 2015 in the River Thames, UK. All analytical techniques observed a rapid increase in chlorophyll a concentration and cell abundances from March to early June, caused primarily by a diatom bloom. Light microscopy identified a shift from pennate to centric diatoms during this period. The initial diatom bloom coincided with increased HPLC peridinin concentrations, indicating the presence of dinoflagellates which were likely to be consuming the diatom population. The diatom bloom declined rapidly in early June, coinciding with a storm event. There were low chlorophyll a concentrations (by both HPLC and spectrophotometric methods) throughout July and August, implying low biomass and phytoplankton activity. However, FCM revealed high abundances of pico-chlorophytes and cyanobacteria through July and August, showing that phytoplankton communities remain active and abundant throughout the summer period. In combination, these techniques are able to simultaneously characterise a wider range of phytoplankton groups, with greater certainty, and provide improved understanding of phytoplankton functioning (e.g. production of UV inhibiting pigments by cyanobacteria in response to high light levels) and ecological status (through examination of pigment degradation products). Combined HPLC and FCM analyses offer rapid and cost-effective characterisation of phytoplankton communities at appropriate timescales. This will allow a more-targeted use of light microscopy to capture phytoplankton peaks or to investigate periods of rapid community succession. This will lead to greater system understanding of phytoplankton succession in response to biogeochemical drivers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-376
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Algae
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Eutrophication
  • High-frequency monitoring
  • Photosynthetic pigments
  • Water quality


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