High abundance of the potentially maitotoxic dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus carpenteri in temperate waters of New South Wales, Australia

Gurjeet S. Kohli, Shauna A. Murray, Brett A. Neilan, Lesley L. Rhodes, D. Tim Harwood, Kirsty F. Smith, Lauren Meyer, Angela Capper, Steve Brett, Gustaaf M. Hallegraeff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Species of the genus Gambierdiscus are epiphytic dinoflagellates well known from tropical coral reef areas at water temperatures from 24 to 29°C. Gambierdiscus spp. are able to produce ciguatoxins (CTXs) known to bioaccumulate in fish, and the ingestion of tropical fish that accumulated CTXs and possibly also maitotoxins (MTXs) can cause ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) in humans. In Australia, ciguatera poisonings have been reported in tropical parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory. Here, we report for the first time the seasonal abundance (April-May 2012/13) of Gambierdiscus spp. (up to 6565-8255cellsg-1 wet weight algae) from Merimbula and Wagonga Inlets in temperate southern New South Wales, Australia (37°S) at water temperatures of 16.5-17°C. These are popular shellfish aquaculture and recreational fisheries areas with no reports of ciguatera poisoning. Sequencing of a region of the 28S rRNA gene led to the conclusive identification of Gambierdiscus carpenteri. The cells differed however from the Belize type description, including the absence of a thecal groove, dorsal rostrum and variable hatchet- to rectangular-shaped 2' plate, and were morphologically more similar to Gambierdiscus toxicus. To study the dinoflagellate community structure in detail, a pyrosequencing approach based on the 18S rRNA gene was applied, which confirmed the presence of a single Gambierdiscus species only. Neither CTXs nor MTXs were detected in natural bloom material by LC-MS/MS; however, the extracts were found to be toxic via mouse-bioassay, with symptoms suggestive of poisoning by MTX-like compounds. Understanding the abundance of Gambierdiscus populations in areas with no apparent human health impacts is important towards defining the alternate conditions where sparse populations can create ciguatera problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-145
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Bloom
  • Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP)
  • Gambierdiscus
  • Maitotoxin (MTX)
  • Pyrosequencing
  • Temperate environment


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