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Keywords:

  • Alexandrium;
  • climate change;
  • dinoflagellate cysts;
  • Puget Sound;
  • sea surface temperature;
  • Sequim Bay

Since the 1970s, Puget Sound, Washington State, USA, has experienced an increase in detections of paralytic shellfish toxins (PSTs) in shellfish due to blooms of the harmful dinoflagellate Alexandrium. Natural patterns of climate variability, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and changes in local environmental factors, such as sea surface temperature (SST) and air temperature, have been linked to the observed increase in PSTs. However, the lack of observations of PSTs in shellfish prior to the 1950s has inhibited statistical assessments of longer-term trends in climate and environmental conditions on Alexandrium blooms. After a bloom, Alexandrium cells can enter a dormant cyst stage, which settles on the seafloor and then becomes entrained into the sedimentary record. In this study, we created a record of Alexandrium spp. cysts from a sediment core obtained from Sequim Bay, Puget Sound. Cyst abundances ranged from 0 to 400 cysts · cm−3 and were detected down-core to a depth of 100 cm, indicating that Alexandrium has been present in Sequim Bay since at least the late 1800s. The cyst record allowed us to statistically examine relationships with available environmental parameters over the past century. Local air temperature and sea surface temperature were positively and significantly correlated with cyst abundances from the late 1800s to 2005; no significant relationship was found between PDO and cyst abundances. This finding suggests that local environmental variations more strongly influence Alexandrium population dynamics in Puget Sound when compared to large-scale changes.