Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Kimberly S Reece

Committee Member

Ryan B Carnegie

Committee Member

Mark W Luckenbach

Committee Member

Juliette L Smith


The toxin-producing harmful algal bloom (HAB) species Alexandrium monilatum has long been associated with finfish and shellfish mortalities in the Gulf of Mexico. In the summer of 2007, A. monilatum re-emerged as a bloom-forming species in the Chesapeake Bay. Over the last decade, late summer blooms of A. monilatum have been expanding in range in the lower Chesapeake Bay and have reached record-high densities, particularly in the lower York River. This dinoflagellate species overwinters in the sediments as a resting cyst, and upon excystment under suitable environmental conditions produces blooms the following summer. The research presented here includes the first mapping and quantification of resting cysts of A. monilatum in surface sediments in the Chesapeake Bay using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays. A systematic grid sampling design was employed to collect pre-bloom sediments in the southwestern portion of the Chesapeake Bay each year from 2014-2016. Cysts were widespread in the bottom sediments and sediment cyst density increased from 2014-2016, reaching as high as 90,000 cysts/cc in the York River channel. A multiple linear regression was used to model cyst density using environmental parameters. Sediment type was a strong predictor of cyst density, with higher cyst densities found at sites with more fine sediments (silts and clays). Laboratory HAB toxicity bioassay methods were used to investigate potential adverse health impacts of A. monilatum on adult triploid eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica. Oyster behavior and mortality were monitored and routine paraffin histology was performed to analyze tissue damage. Oysters did not exhibit mortality or tissue damage in a 48-hour fed toxicity bioassay. However, a 96-hour unfed toxicity bioassay led to 67% mortality, and erosion of the gill and mantle epithelial tissues in 94% of oysters exposed to A. monilatum (live cell or lysate). In the summer of 2015, oysters were deployed in the lower York River to assess effects of exposure before, during, and after a natural A. monilatum bloom. A subsample of six live oysters was collected weekly for two months and processed for histology. There was no mortality of deployed oysters, but minor epithelial erosion of the mantle was seen in half of the oysters sampled during the peak of the A. monilatum bloom from early to mid-August. Field and laboratory results showed that C. virginica did occasionally consume A. monilatum, and exposure of C. virginica to live A. monilatum or lysate could lead to epithelial erosion of external tissues and mortality. It is clear from the findings of this research that A. monilatum has established itself in the York River region of the Chesapeake Bay and that at least under laboratory conditions, persistent exposure to A. monilatum (live or lysate) can have serious potential health impacts on adult oysters.



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