El Niño, an interannual climate event characterized by elevated oceanic temperature, is a prime threat for coral reef ecosystems worldwide, owing to their thermal threshold sensitivity. Phytoplankton plays a crucial role in the sustenance of reef trophodynamics. The cell size of the phytoplankton forms the “master morphological trait” with implications for growth, resource acquisition, and adaptability to nutrients. In the context of a strong El Niño prediction for 2015–2016, the present study was undertaken to evaluate the variations in the size-structured phytoplankton of Kavaratti reef waters, a major coral atoll along the southeast coast of India. The present study witnessed a remarkable change in the physicochemical environment of the reef water and massive coral bleaching with the progression of El Niño 2015–2016 from its peak to waning phase. The fluctuations observed in sea surface temperature, pH, and nutrient concentration of the reef water with the El Niño progression resulted in a remarkable shift in phytoplankton size structure, abundance, and community composition of the reef waters. Though low nutrient concentration of the waning phase resulted in lower phytoplankton biomass and abundance, the diazotroph Trichodesmium erythraeum predominated the reef waters, owing to its capability of the atmospheric nitrogen fixation and dissolved organic phosphate utilization.
Karati K. K., Vineetha G., Madhu N.V., Article (subscription required).Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 189: 653. doi: 10.1007/s10661-017-6369-5.