Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences


Ecological Sciences

Committee Director

Harold G. Marshall

Committee Member

Daniel M. Dauer

Committee Member

Margaret R. Mulholland

Committee Member

Kneeland K. Nesius


Characterizing the diversity of a community in relation to environmental conditions and ecosystem functions are core concepts in ecology. While decades of research have led to a growing comprehension of diversity in many ecosystems, our understanding in aquatic habitats and microbial organisms remains relatively limited. Phytoplankton represent a diverse and important group that contribute approximately half of global primary productivity and are intrinsically connected to changing environmental conditions, especially in systems as dynamic as estuaries. To better understand the ecological processes governing phytoplankton composition and diversity, spatial and temporal patterns of environmental parameters and their relation to the algal community of Chesapeake Bay were analyzed using data collected over a 25 year period (1985-2009).

The phytoplankton community of Chesapeake Bay, containing 1480 taxa was characterized as one of high richness and low evenness, with a single species accounting for at least half of the biomass in almost one third of all samples examined. High gamma-diversity was attributed to seasonal succession of dominant flora and spatial heterogeneity along the estuarine gradient with high species turnover between salinity regions. Alpha-diversity was greatest in freshwater and polyhaline regions, and minimal in lower mesohaline waters. Multivariate ordination analysis identified regional differences corresponded to salinity, turbidity, and nutrient gradients, with lowest richness in regions of intermediate salinity, total nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and highest dissolved organic nitrogen. Temporal factors included negative impacts of streamflow related nutrient increases leading to greater algal abundance and lower diversity particularly within the polyhaline Bay. Results indicate that greater algal biomass was associated with higher richness and lower evenness, and may be associated with lower ecosystem stability, with greater variance in inter-annual phytoplankton biomass.

To address short-term environmental variability including nutrient loading, daily sampling of the Lafayette River, was conducted in spring 2006. During consecutive blooms of Cryptomonas sp. and Gymnodinium instriatum up to 99% of total biomass was due to the individual bloom species, although species richness was not significantly reduced. Time lag correlations indicated that the Cryptomonas sp. bloom was related to precipitation related increases in dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations, while the G. instriatum bloom followed periods of reduced nitrogen concentrations that were accompanied by an algal community of high richness and low evenness. Based on its connectivity to both environmental and biological variables, phytoplankton diversity is recognized as a significant indicator of ecosystem condition, with high species richness and evenness as potential goals for restoration efforts.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).