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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Computer simulation of phytoplankton and nutrient dynamics in an enclosed marine ecosystem Carruthers, Alan Boyd


This thesis presents a quantitative model of interactions among phytoplankton, nutrients, bacteria and grazers in an enclosed marine ecosystem. The enclosed system was a 23 m deep, 9.6 m diameter column of surface water in Saanich Inlet, British Columbia. Dynamics of large- and small-celled diatoms and flagellates in response to observed irradiance and zooplankton numbers and observed or simulated nitrogen and silicon concentrations were modelled over a simulated 76-day period between July 12 and September 26. The model's predictions poorly matched the observed events in Controlled Experimental Ecosystem 2 (CEE2), but nevertheless provided some important insights into system behavior. Ciliate grazing probably prevented small-celled phytoplankton from increasing to large concentrations in CEE2. By virtue of their tremendous numbers, colourless flagellates were potentially the most important grazers on bacteria, much more important than larvaceans or metazoan larvae. Whereas small-celled phytoplankton were limited by grazers, large phytoplankton dynamics were not markedly affected by grazing. The average observed rate of 14C fixation in the surface 8 m was roughly consistent with an interpretation in which artificial additions of nitrogen contributed 62% of inferred net uptake of nitrogen by phytoplankton, mixing from subsurface water contributed 18%, bacterial remineralization 12%, and zooplankton excretion 9%. However, independent observations of rapid activity by microheterotrophs (presumably bacteria) suggested that 1*C fixation considerably underestimated net primary production. This yielded an alternative interpretation in which nutrient additions contributed 46% of inferred net uptake of nitrogen in the surface layer, mixing 13%, bacteria 35%, and zooplankton 7%. Dissolution of silica was responsible for the observed accumulation of silicic acid below 8 m depth in CEE2, but the importance of silica dissolution as a source of Si for diatom growth in the surface 8 m is uncertain. The model's major failing was its assumption of unchanging maximum growth rates of phytoplankton, and unchanging rates of exudation, sinking, and respiration. Physiological parameter values which accounted for the huge bloom of Stephanopyxis in CEE2 could not account for the ensuing collapse. Traditional modelling assumptions of slowly changing internal physiology, although adequate for marine systems dominated by physical factors such as seasonality or water movement, cannot capture the behavior of biologically dominated systems like the enclosed system considered here.

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