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Keywords:

  • blooms;
  • feedback;
  • harmful algae;
  • grazing;
  • ecosystem;
  • light;
  • phytoplankton;
  • nutrients;
  • recycling;
  • zooplankton

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have occurred with increasing frequency in recent years with eutrophication and other anthropogenic alterations of coastal ecosystems. Many of these blooms severely alter or degrade ecosystem function, and are referred to here as ecosystem disruptive algal blooms (EDABs). These blooms are often caused by toxic or unpalatable species that decrease grazing rates by planktonic and benthic herbivores, and thereby disrupt the transfer of nutrients and energy to higher trophic levels, and decrease nutrient recycling. Many factors, such as nutrient availability and herbivore grazing have been proposed to separately influence EDAB dynamics, but interactions among these factors have rarely been considered. Here we discuss positive feedback interactions among nutrient availability, herbivore grazing, and nutrient regeneration, which have the potential to substantially influence the dynamics of EDAB events. The positive feedbacks result from a reduction of grazing rates on EDAB species caused by toxicity or unpalatability of these algae, which promotes the proliferation of the EDAB species. The decreased rates also lower grazer-mediated recycling of nutrients and thereby decrease nutrient availability. Since many EDAB species are well-adapted to nutrient-stressed environments and many exhibit increased toxin production and toxicity under nutrient limitation, positive feedbacks are established which can greatly increase the rate of bloom development and the adverse effects on the ecosystem. An understanding of how these feedbacks interact with other regulating factors, such as benthic/pelagic nutrient coupling, physical forcing, and life cycles of EDAB species provides a substantial future challenge.