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With the eutrophication of many freshwaters and coastal environments, phytoplankton blooms have become a common phenomenon. This article uses a reaction-diffusion model to investigate the implications of mixing processes for the dynamics and species composition of phytoplankton blooms. The model identifies four key parameters for bloom development: incident light intensity, background turbidity, water column depth, and turbulent mixing rates. The model predicts that the turbulent mixing rate is a major determinant of the species composition of phytoplankton blooms. In well-mixed environments, the species with lowest "critical light intensity" should become dominant. But at low mixing rates, the species with lowest critical light intensity is displaced if other species obtain a better position in the light gradient. Instead of a gradual change in species composition, the model predicts steep transitions between the dominance regions of the various species. The model predicts a low species diversity: phytoplankton blooms in eutrophic environments should be dominated by one or a few species only. The model predictions are consistent with laboratory competition experiments and many existing field data. We recommend examining competition in phytoplankton blooms under well-controlled laboratory conditions, and we derive scaling rules that facilitate translation from the laboratory to the field. [KEYWORDS: competition model; critical depth; critical turbulence reaction-diffusion equation; population dynamics; resource competition Deep chlorophyll maximum; agardhii-var-isothrix; hypertrophic lake; vertical migration; cyanobacterium microcystis; environmental-factors; resource competition; narragansett bay; limited growth; water column]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-68
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999

ID: 382993