Biodiversity of Native and Invasive Suspension Feeders Affects Water Quality and Potential for Harmful Algal Blooms

EPA Grant Number: F13E20906
Title: Biodiversity of Native and Invasive Suspension Feeders Affects Water Quality and Potential for Harmful Algal Blooms
Investigators: Whalen, Matthew Adam
Institution: University of California - Davis
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 29, 2014 through September 29, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Ecology , Academic Fellowships


The processes that generate harmful algal blooms are likely to involve
a suite of interactions between competing algal species and their consumers. Understanding how diversity and environmental variability influence the development of harmful algal blooms will lead to better management of coastal ecosystems. This research will explore how biodiversity and water flow variability interactively determine water quality.


This research will use a suite of experiments and molecular techniques
to explore how biodiversity and water flow influence filtration rates
and phytoplankton coexistence in Northern California marine-fouling communities. Using a replicated array of recirculating flow chambers, phytoplankton and invertebrate filter feeder species diversity will be manipulated, as will water flow variability, to determine how these factors influence rates of biological filtration and the persistence of a variety of cultured phytoplankton species. Additionally, high-throughput DNA sequencing will be used to characterize phytoplankton communities from water column samples and from the guts of filter feeders.

Expected Results:

The impact of diversity on water filtration and harmful algal blooms
is expected to depend on trophic level and environmental variability. Harmful algal blooms are often dominated by a single algal species, which could result from environmental tolerance, competitive exclusion or resistance to predation. However, dominance by single, potentially harmful, algal species may be restricted by environmental variability and competitor diversity. Meanwhile, water filtration is expected to be more efficient with increasing diversity of filter feeding animals, potentially benefiting unpalatable or toxic species by alleviating competition with more palatable algae. Biodiversity could increase or decrease the likelihood and severity of harmful algal blooms, depending on the toxicity of bloom-forming algae.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Results from this research will constrain evaluation of the ecosystem service of water filtration derived from fouling organisms, whose diversity in many regions is increasing due to biological invasions. Molecular techniques will provide early detection methods for aquaculture and fisheries managers to monitor phytoplankton communities and harmful algal blooms.

Supplemental Keywords:

biodiversity, ecosystem function, harmful algal bloom

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final