Dinophysis acuta

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Dinophysis acuta

Plankton are microscopic organisms that drift on, or swim in, the ocean’s currents. Phytoplankton are photosynthetic micro-organisms that are so productive they are responsible for generating and maintaining much of the Earth’s oxygen.

Image: A microscopic look at Dinophysis acuta.

3D View: Dinophysis acuta
An illustration of Dinophysis acuta.

Why this species is important

Certain species have adapted over time to be able to live in harsh environments and yet become some of the most productive species.  Dinophysis acuta (its scientific name) is a type of phytoplankton that occurs in low numbers in marine cold Arctic waters.  It has the ability to not only collect energy from the sun to create food and oxygen, but also the potential to ingest prey and particulate matter.


High levels of toxins

Dinophysis acuta form an important base for the Arctic food chain and feed many Arctic species, such as shellfish. This type of plankton has the ability to produce toxins which they can pass on to shellfish. Predators that feed on shellfish can ingest these toxins, which can lead to sickness and death.

This info graphic shows the effects that high levels of toxins can have on Arctic marine life. A non-toxic body of water allows fish and other marine life to thrive. As toxins in a lake grow, the ecosystem becomes polluted and marine life begins to expire.

A lake full of healthy fish.  The fish begin to expire with an increase in toxin levels.
High level of toxins
No toxins (Green equals toxins)

A toxic meal


Under specific environmental conditions, Dinophysis acuta can produce toxins associated with diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP).  As the name suggests, shellfish eating this species can concentrate the toxins in their tissues.  If other species ingest the shellfish, the concentrated levels of the toxins are transferred to those eating them, including humans.  This can induce vomiting and diarrhea and it can even lead to death.


Climate change and changing toxin levels


Scientists have suggested that as waters become warmer and more nutrient rich, the level of toxins plankton produce could increase.  Could climate change in the Arctic alter how Dinophysis acuta is distributed and how many potential toxic strains could be introduced?


How did they evolve?


Many dinoflagellates, which include Dinophysis acuta, have multiple life history stages which make them more sexually and asexually diverse than most life forms, including humans.