Sellner Kevin G.

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The global, complex phenomena of harmful algal blooms

2005-06 , Glibert, Patricia M. , Anderson, Donald M. , Gentien, Patrick , Graneli, Edna , Sellner, Kevin G.

Marine and fresh waters team with life, much of it microscopic, and most of it harmless; in fact, it is this microscopic life on which all aquatic life ultimately depends for food. Microscopic algae also play an important role in regulating atmospheric CO2 by sequestering it during production and transporting it to deeper waters. Yet some of the microscopic “algae” cause problems when they accumulate in sufficient numbers, due either to their production of endogenous toxins, or to their sheer biomass or even their physical shape. These are known as the harmful algae, or, when in sufficient numbers, harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms were formerly called “red tides” because many were composed of dinoflagellates containing red pigments that in high densities colored the water red, but blooms may also be green, yellow, or brown, depending on the type of algae present and their pigmentation. As with all blooms, their proliferation results from a combination of physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms and their interactions with other components of the food web that are for the most part poorly understood. Most HABs are dinoflagellates or cyanobacteria, but other classes of algae, including diatoms, have members that may form HABs under some conditions. As stated by J. Ryther and co-workers many years ago, “...there is no necessity to postulate obscure factors which would account for a prodigious growth of dinoflagellates to explain red water. It is necessary only to have conditions favoring the growth and dominance of a moderately large population of a given species, and the proper hydrographic and meteorological conditions to permit the accumulation of organisms at the surface and to effect their future concentrations in localized areas” (Ryther, 1955).

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2014-02 , Anderson, Donald M. , McGillicuddy, Dennis J. , DeGrasse, Stacey L. , Sellner, Kevin G. , Bricelj, V. Monica , Turner, Jefferson T. , Townsend, David W. , Kleindinst, Judith L.

The Gulf of Maine (GOM) is a continental shelf sea in the northwest Atlantic, USA that supports highly-productive shellfisheries that are frequently contaminated by toxigenic Alexandrium fundyense blooms and outbreaks of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), resulting in significant economic and social impacts. Additionally, an emerging threat to these resources is from blooms of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia species that produce domoic acid, the toxin responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). Nearshore shellfish toxins are monitored by state agencies, whereas most offshore stocks have had little or no routine monitoring. As a result, large areas of federal waters have been indefinitely closed or their shellfish beds underexploited because of the potential risk these toxins pose and the lack of scientific understanding and management tools. Patterns and dynamics of Alexandrium blooms and the resulting shellfish toxicity in nearshore waters were examined in a number of research projects, the largest being the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB)-Gulf of Maine (GOM), a five-year regional program emphasizing field surveys, laboratory studies and numerical modeling. At the completion of the ECOHAB-GOM program (documented in Anderson et al., 2005), great progress was made in understanding A. fundyense blooms and resulting shellfish toxicity in nearshore waters, but there were major unknowns that still required investigation. For example, little was known about A. fundyense bloom dynamics in the waters south and east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and in particular, about the link between blooms in surface waters and toxicity in deep offshore shellfish. Large areas of offshore shellfish beds were off limits to harvest, including a 40,000 km2 region closed during the 2005 bloom and a much larger zone (~80,000 km2) including portions of Georges Bank was closed in 1990 after high levels of PSP toxicity were detected. In recent years, pressures were mounting from industry to open those offshore areas and to develop management strategies so that surfclam (Spisula solidissima), ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), and roe-on sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) fisheries could be opened. In response to these unknowns and societal needs, a new multi-investigator program, GOMTOX (Gulf of Maine Toxicity), was formulated and ultimately funded through the NOAA ECOHAB program. GOMTOX was a regional observation and modeling program that investigated the patterns and mechanisms underlying A. fundyense and Pseudo-nitzschia blooms and the resulting toxicity in shellfish in the southern GOM and its adjacent New England shelf waters, with special emphasis on the delivery pathways, mechanisms, and dynamics of offshore shellfish toxicity. The GOMTOX team of investigators included 16 principal investigators from eight institutions and, continuing in the ECOHAB-GOM tradition, strong participation from federal and state resource managers as well as representatives of the shellfish industry. This team worked together for over five years, running numerous large-scale survey cruises of Alexandrium cells and cysts, and also supporting industry cruises to collect shellfish from offshore sites including Georges Bank. Other efforts included participation in National Marine Fisheries Service surveys for shellfish (sea scallops, surfclams, and ocean quahogs), numerical modeling studies, deployment of sediment traps, and laboratory and ship-based experiments to investigate grazing and other processes that might regulate blooms and deliver toxins to shellfish in deeper waters. A smaller-scale but concurrent effort collected samples to characterize Pseudo-nitzschia species and their potential toxicity in the region.