Seasonal variation in morphotype composition of pelagic Sargassum influx events is linked to oceanic origin

Sci Rep. 2023 Mar 7;13(1):3753. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-30969-2.


The recent proliferation of pelagic Sargassum spp. in the Tropical Atlantic causes major ecological and socioeconomic impacts to the wider Caribbean when it washes ashore, with regional fisheries and tourism industries particularly affected. The Caribbean influxes have been tracked to a new bloom region known as the North Equatorial Recirculation Region (NERR) encompassing the area between the South Equatorial Current and the North Equatorial Counter Current and extending from Africa to South America. The vast biomass of Sargassum presents serious problems when it washes ashore but also represents significant commercial opportunities, especially with biofuel and fertilizer. The floating Sargassum mats are themselves diverse ecosystems that vary both in their biodiversity and biochemical attributes. Two major species (Sargassum fluitans and S. natans) have been identified as well as several distinguishable morphotypes of each. Oceanic mixing tends to blend the morphotypes together making it difficult to determine if there are regions of the NERR that favour bloom and growth of the distinct types. In this study, we quantify the species and morphotype composition of Sargassum strandings in Barbados and test if this is related to separate oceanic origins and routes travelled using a backtracking algorithm based on ocean drifter data. We found significant seasonal variation in the relative abundance of three morphotypes and this could be traced to two distinct easterly sub-origins and/or transport pathways; one area around 15° N that travels directly E-W across the Atlantic, and another area generally south of 10° N that takes a more meandering route coming close the coast of South America. These findings contribute towards our understanding of why the Tropical Atlantic bloom is presently occurring as well as towards addressing valorisation constraints surrounding variation in the supply of the three commonly occurring morphotypes.

PMID:36882555 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-30969-2


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