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Absolute and relative abundances of calcareous dinoflagellate cyst species in surface sediment samples from the Arabian Sea are compared with environmental parameters of the upper 100 m of the water column to gain information on their largely unknown autecology. Ten species or morphotypes were encountered of which four occurred only as accessories. On the basis of the distribution patterns of the six more abundant species or morphotypes, the studied area is subdivided into three provinces, demonstrating a clear relationship to monsoon-controlled upper-ocean conditions. The two dominant species, Thoracosphaera heimii and Orthopithonella granifera, show opposite trends in distribution of both their absolute and relative abundances. In the NE Arabian Sea, low absolute and relative abundances of T. heimii are mainly attributed to enhanced dissolution of the small tests in this region, whereas elevated concentrations of O. granifera seem to be related to higher water temperatures and the influence of the Indus River. Sphaerodinella albatrosiana and Calciodinellum operosum are most abundant in the open ocean, associated with lower nutrient levels, relatively high temperatures and low seasonality. Spiny cysts (mainly represented by Scrippsiella trochoidea), in contrast, exhibit a more shelf-ward distribution and are most abundant in regions that are influenced by coastal upwelling, characterized by eutrophic and rather unstable conditions with seasonally lower temperatures and a shallow thermocline. A generally negative correlation of calcareous dinoflagellate cysts with primary productivity or high nutrient concentrations, as proposed by other workers, cannot be confirmed. Cyst accumulation rates off Somalia show that strong turbulence and high current speeds are unfavourable for calcareous dinoflagellates, suggesting that these organisms are more successful under rather stratified conditions.

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