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Pulished in: Harmful Algae, Vol.1, Issue 1, 2002.


Blooms of the dinoflagellate Alexandrium spp. increase in their frequency, toxicity and historical presence with increasing latitude from New Jersey (USA) to the Gaspé peninsula (Canada). Biogeographic variation in these blooms results in differential exposure of geographically separate copepod populations to toxic Alexandrium. We hypothesize that the ability of copepods to feed and reproduce on toxic Alexandrium should be higher in copepods from regions that are frequently exposed to toxic Alexandrium blooms. We tested this hypothesis with factorial common environment experiments in which female adults of the copepod Acartia hudsonica from five separate populations ranging from New Jersey to New Brunswick were fed toxic and non-toxic strains of Alexandrium, and the non-toxic flagellate Tetraselmis sp. Consistent with the hypothesis, when fed toxic Alexandrium we observed significantly higher ingestion and egg production rates in the copepods historically exposed to toxic Alexandrium blooms relative to copepods from regions in which Alexandrium is rare or absent. Such differences among copepod populations were not observed when copepods were fed non-toxic Alexandrium or Tetraselmis sp. These results were also supported by assays in which copepods from populations both historically exposed and naı̈ve to toxic Alexandrium blooms were fed mixtures of toxic Alexandrium and Tetraselmis sp. Two-week long experiments demonstrated that when copepods from populations naı̈ve to toxic Alexandrium were fed a toxic strain of Alexandrium they failed to acclimate, such that their ingestion rates remained low throughout the entire two-week period. The differences observed among populations suggest that local adaptation of populations of A. hudsonica from Massachusetts (USA) to New Brunswick (Canada) has occurred, such that some populations are resistant to toxic Alexandrium.

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