Spatial distribution and community structure of phytoplankton, ciliates and zooplankton coupled to environmental factors in the Sousse saltern (Sahel of Tunisia)
The composition and distribution of the main planktonic halophilic microorganisms were studied in 12 ponds of different salinity levels, ranging from 38 to 328, in the saltern of Sousse, Tunisia, in relation to environmental factors. Nutrient concentrations increased with decreasing salinity in the ponds. Phytoplankton, ciliate and zooplankton communities were very diverse and varied spatially in relation to salinity in the ponds and to nutrient availability. Phytoplankton were dominated by diatoms, followed by dinoflagellates, in primary ponds where salinities were <100, and by the Chlorophyceae and Cyanophyceae in ponds with higher salinity. Zooplankton were dominated by copepods in the ponds of lowest salinity and by the brine shrimp Artemia salina in the most saline ponds. Within the planktonic community as a whole, diatoms, Spirotrichaea and copepods (68.9%, 89.9% and 71.05%, respectively) dominated in the lower-salinity ponds whereas Chlorophyceae, heterotrichs and Artemia salina (49.19%, 50.4% and 90%, respectively) dominated in the ponds of higher salinity. Despite the considerable constraint imposed by salinity, other environmental factors such as temperature also play a role in regulating the planktonic communities.
Keywords: planktonic communities, salinity gradient, solar saltern