(Nature Research, 2021-05-24)
Lapointe, Brian E.; Brewton, Rachel A.; Herren, Laura W.; Wang, Mengqiu; Hu, Chuanmin; McGillicuddy, Dennis J.; Lindell, Scott; Hernandez, Frank J.; Morton, Peter L.
The pelagic brown macroalgae Sargassum spp. have grown for centuries in oligotrophic waters of the North Atlantic Ocean supported by natural nutrient sources, such as excretions from associated fishes and invertebrates, upwelling, and N2 fixation. Using a unique historical baseline, we show that since the 1980s the tissue %N of Sargassum spp. has increased by 35%, while %P has decreased by 44%, resulting in a 111% increase in the N:P ratio (13:1 to 28:1) and increased P limitation. The highest %N and δ15N values occurred in coastal waters influenced by N-rich terrestrial runoff, while lower C:N and C:P ratios occurred in winter and spring during peak river discharges. These findings suggest that increased N availability is supporting blooms of Sargassum and turning a critical nursery habitat into harmful algal blooms with catastrophic impacts on coastal ecosystems, economies, and human health.