Possible importance of algal toxins in the Salton Sea, California

, , , , , and
DOI: 10.1023/A:1016518825934



In response to wildlife mortality including unexplained eared grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) die-off events in 1992 and 1994 and other mortality events including large fish kills, a survey was conducted for the presence of algal toxins in the Salton Sea. Goals of this survey were to determine if and when algal toxins are present in the Salton Sea and to describe the phytoplankton composition during those times. A total of 29 samples was collected for toxicity analysis from both nearshore and midlake sites visited biweekly from January to December 1999. Dinoflagellates and diatoms dominated most samples, but some were dominated by a prymnesiophyte (Pleurochrysis pseudoroscoffensis) or a raphidophyte (Chattonella marina). Several types of blooms were observed and sampled. The dinoflagellate Gyrodinium uncatenum formed an extensive, dense (up to 310 000 cells ml-1) and long-lasting bloom during the winter in 1999. A coccolithophorid, Pleurochrysis pseudoroscoffensis, occurred at high densities in surface films and nearshore areas during the spring and summer of 1999. These surface films also contained high densities of one or two other species (an unidentified scrippsielloid, Heterocapsa niei, Chattonella marina). Localized blooms were also observed in the Salton Sea. An unknown small dinoflagellate reached high densities (110 000 cells ml-1) inside Varner Harbor, and an unidentified species of Gymnodinium formed a dense (270 000 cells ml-1) band along part of the southern shoreline during the summer. Three species known to produce toxins in other systems were found. Protoceratium reticulatum (=Gonyaulax grindleyi) and Chattonella marina were found in several samples taken during summer months, and Prorocentrum minimum was found in low densities in several samples. Extracts of most samples, including those containing known toxic species, showed a low level (<10% mortality across all concentrations) of activity in the brine shrimp lethality assay and were not considered toxic. All sample extracts tested in the mouse bioassay showed no activity. One sample extract taken from the bloom of the small dinoflagellate was highly active (100% mortality across all concentrations) in the brine shrimp lethality assay, but the active material could not be isolated. While dense algal blooms are common at the Salton Sea, no evidence gathered in this study suggests that algal toxins are present within phytoplankton cells; however, toxins actively excreted by cells may have been missed. Blooms of phytoplankton likely contribute to wildlife mortality at the Salton Sea. Possible mechanisms including intoxication due to ingestion of feathers in grebes and waterlogging caused by changes in surface tension are discussed.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Conference Paper
Publication Subtype:
Conference Paper
Possible importance of algal toxins in the Salton Sea, California
Year Published:
Larger Work Title:
First page:
Last page:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Salton Sea
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):