Author ORCID Identifier

Rabalais, Nancy N.: 0000-0002-1514-837X
Qureshi, Naureen Aziz: 0000-0002-1575-2761

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Marine diatoms require dissolved silicate to form an external shell. and their growth becomes Si-limited when the atomic ratio of silicate to dissolved inorganic nitrogen (SI:DIN) approaches 1:1, also known as the Redfield ratio. Fundamental changes in the diatom-to-zooplankton-to-higher trophic level food web should occur when this ratio falls below 1:1. and the proportion of diatoms in the phytoplankton community is reduced. We quantitatively substantiate these predictions by using a variety of data from the Mississippi River continental shelf, a system in which the SI:DIN loading ratio has declined from around 3:1 to 1:1 during this century because of land-use practices in the watershed, We suggest that, on this shelf, when the Si:DIN ratio in the river decreases to less than 1:1, then (i) copepod abundance changes from >75% to <30% of the total mesozooplankton, (ii) zooplankton fecal pellets become a minor component of the in situ primary production consumed, and (iii) bottom-water oxygen consumption rates become less dependent on relatively fast-sinking (diatom-rich) organic matter packaged mostly as zooplankton fecal pellets. This coastal ecosystem appears to be a pelagic food web dynamically poised to be either a food web composed of diatoms and copepods or one with potentially disruptive harmful algal blooms. The system is directed between these two ecosystem states by Mississippi River water quality, which is determined by land-use practices far inland.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America

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