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Phytoplankton and accompanying environmental data (temperature, salinity, secchi depth, stratification, and inorganic nutrients) were analyzed from 672 surface water samples (0 to 1.5 m depth) collected from 95 stations located on the Louisiana shelf between April 1990 and August 2011. Phytoplankton were identified to the lowest practical taxonomic unit from glutaraldehyde-preserved samples using epifluorescent microscopy and reported as cells L-1. Twenty-six phytoplankton taxa (primarily diatoms) that were 8 mu m in size, identified to genuslevel resolution and ranked in the top 20 in at least one of three separate categories (average abundance; frequency of occurrence; and bloom frequency) were used in subsequent analyses. Temperature, stratification, and secchi depth constituted the environmental variable combination best related to the phytoplankton community composition patterns across the 672 samples (r = 0.288; p < 0.01) according to BEST analysis (PRIMER 7). The environmental optima of the 26 taxa were calculated using the weighted-averaging algorithm in the C2 program and then used to group the taxa into common phytoplankton clusters (i.e., niches) using PRIMER 7 CLUSTER. The phytoplankton clustered into three groups: Group A (summer assemblage), Group B (winter assemblage), and Group C (spring bloom assemblage). The results demonstrate that the composition of the phytoplankton community is most related to seasonality and physical variables, whereas nutrients appear to play a larger role in driving overall phytoplankton biomass. This study provides a platform to examine phytoplankton responses to future environmental perturbations in the region.

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Marine Pollution Bulletin