Comparison of the cross-shelf phytoplankton distribution of two oceanographically distinct regions off Australia

Document Type


Publication details

Armbrecht, LH, Thompson, PA, Wright, SW, Schaeffer, A, Roughan, M, Henderiks, J & Armand LK 2015, 'Comparison of the cross-shelf phytoplankton distribution of two oceanographically distinct regions off Australia;', Journal of Marine Systems, vol. 148, pp. 26-38.

Published version available from:


Peer Reviewed



The coastline of Australia spans tropical to temperate latitudes and encompasses a highly diverse phytoplankton community. Yet little is known about environmental driving forces of compositional and distributional patterns in natural phytoplankton communities of Australia. We investigate the relationships of phytoplankton (pico-, nano-, microphytoplankton, determined by microscopy and CHEMTAX) with a variety of environmental variables along cross-shelf gradients. Case studies were conducted in two highly distinct oceanographic regions of Australia (2010/2012): the tropical-temperate Coffs Harbour region (~ 30°S, 153°E), where the shelf is narrow (~ 30 km), and the tropical Kimberley region (~ 16°S, 122°E), where the shelf is wide (~ 200 km). We distinguished three water masses in both study regions: relatively cold, nutrient-rich inshore waters; oligotrophic, stratified offshore waters; and cold, nutrient-rich deep waters. Most phytoplankton taxa (cyanobacteria, cryptophytes, dinoflagellates, haptophytes and prasinophytes) showed group-specific relationships with similar environmental variables in both regions. Diatoms occurred in nutrient-rich inshore waters in the Kimberley, whereas they were widely spread across the narrow continental shelf at Coffs Harbour. Off Coffs Harbour, a senescent bloom of the diatom Leptocylindrus danicus probably caused shelf-scale surface nutrient depletion. While microphytoplankton clearly increased, pico- and nanophytoplankton decreased with distance from the coast over the wide shelf in the Kimberley region. In contrast, the abundance of individual phytoplankton size-classes remained relatively constant across the narrow Coffs Harbour shelf. We conclude that general similarities exist between the relationship of phytoplankton and cross-shelf environmental variables in the two sites and assign differences primarily to the varying spatial resolution of our case studies.

Find in your library