Red tides are one of the most dramatic effects of Gonyaulax on the marine ecosystem.
Red tides refers to massive phytoplankton blooms that normally occur during the warm spring and summer months. They are called "red" due to the golden-red color of the peridinin pigment. Despite potentially devastating effects on commercial fisheries, red tides may be crucial to the health of the ecosystem. Ecologists say that blooms are a normal part of natural history, analogous to terrestrial forest fires. Red tides poison many marine organisms, an interference that disrupts the equilibrium of the ecosystem. Pioneer species are then able to populate vacated niches. For example, crab and shrimp populations have been observed to increase following red tides.
Gonyaulax may poison, but can also support life.
Gonyaulax is the second most important component of the phytoplankton after diatoms. They are one of many photosynthetic dinoflagellates, which together contribute up to 90 percent of primary productivity in the open ocean. Their ability to capture light energy and convert it to food is the reason they are often referred to as "the grass of the sea."
Dinoflagellates in Monterey Bay
We did several plankton tows in Monterey Bay in February to see what kind of dinoflagellates we could find in the wild. The result ... no dinoflagellates! We suspect that during the cold winter months dinoflagellates are laying in their dormant cyst stage at the bottom of the ocean.
Plankton Tows in Monterey Bay
Moss Landing Marina:
Lat. N. 36.48.105'
Lat. N. 36.36.125'
Hopkins Marine Station
© 1999 Allison Arnold and Monica Draghici. All rights reserved.