Dynamics of phytoplankton community structure in the South China Sea in response to the East Asian aerosol input
Recent studies have demonstrated atmospheric deposition as an important source of bioreactive compounds to the ocean. The South China Sea (SCS), where aerosol loading is among the highest in the world, however, is poorly studied, particularly on the in situ response of phytoplankton community structures to atmospheric deposition. By conducting a series of microcosm bioassays at different hydrographical locations and simulating different aerosol event scales, we observed both positive and negative responses to the input of East Asian (EA) aerosol with high nitrogen (N) and trace metal contents, in terms of biomass, composition and physiological characteristics of phytoplankton communities. High levels of aerosol loading relieved phytoplankton nitrogen and trace metal limitations in SCS, and thus increased total phytoplankton biomass, enhanced their physiological indicators (e.g. photosynthetic efficiency) and shifted phytoplankton assemblages from being dominated by picoplankton to microphytoplanton, especially diatoms. However, under low levels of aerosol loading, the composition shift and biomass accumulation were not apparent, suggesting that the stimulation effects might be counterbalanced by enhanced grazing mortality indicated by increased abundance of protist grazers. Trace metal toxicity of the aerosols might also be the reason for the reduction of picocyanobacteria when amended with high EA aerosols. The magnitude and duration of the deposition event, as well as the hydrographical and trophic conditions of receiving waters are also important factors when predicting the influence of an aerosol deposition event. Our results demonstrated different responses of phytoplankton and microbial food web dynamics to different scales of atmospheric input events in SCS and highlighted the need for achieving an accurate comprehension of atmospheric nutrient on the biogeochemical cycles of the oceans.