Stoichiometric regulation of phytoplankton toxins

Dedmer B. Van de Waal, Val H. Smith, Steven A.J. Declerck, Eva C.M. Stam, James J. Elser

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146 Scopus citations


Ecological Stoichiometry theory predicts that the production, elemental structure and cellular content of biomolecules should depend on the relative availability of resources and the elemental composition of their producer organism. We review the extent to which carbon- and nitrogen-rich phytoplankton toxins are regulated by nutrient limitation and cellular stoichiometry. Consistent with theory, we show that nitrogen limitation causes a reduction in the cellular quota of nitrogen-rich toxins, while phosphorus limitation causes an increase in the most nitrogen-rich paralytic shellfish poisoning toxin. In addition, we show that the cellular content of nitrogen-rich toxins increases with increasing cellular N : P ratios. Also consistent with theory, limitation by either nitrogen or phosphorus promotes the C-rich toxin cell quota or toxicity of phytoplankton cells. These observed relationships may assist in predicting and managing toxin-producing phytoplankton blooms. Such a stoichiometric regulation of toxins is likely not restricted to phytoplankton, and may well apply to carbon- and nitrogen-rich secondary metabolites produced by bacteria, fungi and plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)736-742
Number of pages7
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Ecological stoichiometry
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Harmful cyanobacteria
  • Natural toxins
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Secondary metabolites


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