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The Need for Long-Term Data to Understand Complex Ecosystems: The Brown Tide Example

Robert Nuzzi

Suffolk County Department of Health Services, County Center, Riverhead, NY 11901

Long-term, data collected by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) prior to, and as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) sponsored Peconic Estuary Program (PEP), along with data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) resulted in a hypothesis relating rainfall, groundwater, dissolved organic and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DON and DIN) to the development of "brown tide" blooms caused by the picoplankter Aureococcus anophagefferens. Aureococcus is capable of efficiently utilizing DON in the absence of groundwater-supplied DIN, the typical phytoplankton nitrogen source, during periods of low groundwater flow.

Similar, though less intensive data collection by the SCDHS, partly in response to the New York State Department of State (DOS) sponsored South Shore Estuary Reserve (SSER) Program, and data provided by researchers from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook revealed a cascade of events suggesting a relationship between extreme water clarity resulting from high shellfish clearance rates, the growth and subsequent partial mineralization of benthic macroalgae leading to the release of DON, and the production of an unusual winter-time brown tide bloom.

These monitoring programs illustrate the importance of multi-agency cooperation and long-term, intensive data collection for characterizing aquatic resources, and developing an understanding of complex ecosystems sufficient for the formulation of realistic management alternatives.

Keywords: long-term, multi-agency, nitrogen, groundwater, brown tide

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