VanLandeghem, M.M., Denny, S., Patiño, R. 2015. Predicting the risk of toxic blooms of golden alga from cell abundance and environmental covariates. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods 13: 568-586.
Golden alga (Prymnesium parvum) is a toxic haptophyte that has caused considerable ecological damage to marine and inland aquatic ecosystems worldwide. Studies focused primarily on laboratory cultures have indicated that toxicity is poorly correlated with the abundance of golden alga cells. This relationship, however, has not been rigorously evaluated in the field where the mix of toxic compounds produced by golden alga may differ from cultures, and environmental conditions are also different. The ability to predict toxicity using readily-measured environmental variables and golden alga abundance would allow managers rapid assessments of ichthyotoxicity potential without laboratory bioassay confirmation, which requires additional resources to accomplish. To assess the potential utility of these relationships, several a priori models relating lethal levels of golden alga ichthyotoxicity to golden alga abundance and environmental covariates were constructed. Model parameters were estimated using archived data from four river basins in Texas and New Mexico (Colorado, Brazos, Red, Pecos), their predictive ability was quantified using cross-validation, sensitivity, and specificity, and the relative importance of environmental covariates was determined by Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) values and Akaike weights. Overall, abundance was a generally good predictor of ichthyotoxicity as cross validation of golden alga abundance-only models ranged from ~80% to ~90% (leave-one-out cross-validation). Environmental covariates improved predictions, especially the ability to predict lethally toxic events (i.e. increased sensitivity), and top-ranked environmental variables differed among the four basins. These associations may be useful for monitoring as well as understanding the abiotic factors that influence toxicity during blooms.