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Media opportunity: Dalhousie researchers use DNA metabarcoding to develop inventory of plankton in Halifax harbour, revealing 500 unique species of phytoplankton in city's 'secret garden'

Posted by Communications and Marketing on April 21, 2022 in News

Researchers probing the depths of Halifax's iconic harbour have used a species identification tool to create a complete inventory of the rich collection of microscopic algae that lay beneath the water's surface.

Using an environmental DNA (eDNA) barcoding approach, the team at Dalhousie University was able to catalogue the plankton diversity in the harbour over a four-year period and detected almost 500 unique DNA barcodes representing different algal species.

Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that drift with the ocean currents and are at the base of the marine food web.

The study, published in the journal ISME Communications, observed the phytoplankton biodiversity weekly for four years and focused on the predictability of the species composition of spring and fall bloom periods.

Brent Robicheau, a PhD candidate in Dal's Department of Biology and lead author of the study, says the research revealed a predictable, cyclical nature of the algal blooms in the coastal inlet with the surprising occasional presence of phytoplankton typically found in warm, nutrient-poor waters.

The observations help identify indicator phytoplankton species that appear sensitive to environmental change, particularly climate warming. That could indicate future climate-driven trends in coastal ocean productivity. Also, knowing the genetic signatures of phytoplankton species will help track the primary producers at the base of the food web within the harbour.

Robicheau, who collaborated with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography to collect the samples, is available to discuss the unique research and how the time-series data demonstrate the importance of establishing both a baseline and the seasonal patterns of the phytoplankton community.


Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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