Tester et al. 2013

scientific article | Harmful Algae

Gambierdiscus (Dinophyceae) species diversity in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Northern Gulf of Mexico, USA

Tester PA, Vandersea MW, Buckel CA, Kibler SR, Holland WC, Davenport ED, Clark RD, Edwards KF, Taylor JC, Vander Pluym JL, Hickerson EL, Litaker RW


Globally, ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) is the principal cause of non-bacterial illness associated with seafood consumption. The toxins (ciguatoxins) responsible for CFP are produced by dinoflagellates in the genus Gambierdiscus, which are endemic to tropical and sub-tropical areas. Ciguatoxins are lipophilic and bioaccumulate in marine food webs, typically reaching their highest concentrations in fish. Following a CFP event in 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) issued a ciguatera toxin alert that included fish harvested in the northern Gulf of Mexico in and near the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). The East Flower Garden Bank (EFGB) and West Flower Garden Bank (WFGB) are characterized by thriving coral communities that support Gambierdiscus growth. This study was undertaken specifically to document the diversity of Gambierdiscus species present in the sanctuary that may be sources of ciguatoxins entering the food web. Samples collected from the FGBNMS over a three year period were screened using species-specific polymerase chain reaction assays. A diverse assemblage of Gambierdiscus species was distributed to depths of >45 m, a new depth record for Gambierdiscus. Gambierdiscus belizeanus, Gambierdiscus caribaeus, Gambierdiscus carolinianus, Gambierdiscus carpenteri and Gambierdiscus ribotype 2 were all found on both East and West FGB with Gambierdiscus ruetzleri also recorded from the WFGB. The most common species was G. carolinianus, originally identified from samples collected between 35 and 40 m off the coast of NC, USA. Our findings are consistent with recent physiological studies showing that some Gambierdiscus species can grow year round at the temperatures and salinities at the FGBNMS and at light levels as low as 10 mmol photons m2 s1 . Such irradiances are estimated to occur in the FGBNMS at depths of 70– 80 m. The consistent recovery of Gambierdiscus species from deep sampling sites in areas known to produce ciguatoxic fish signals a substantial change in our concept of suitable habitats for Gambierdiscus to include depths greater than 50 m.

Depth range
0- 45 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
0 x (total of 6059 words)

Community structure

Algae (Macro, Turf and Crustose Coralline)

USA - Gulf of Mexico

SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)

Author profiles