Karenia: The biology and ecology of a toxic genus

Larry E. Brand, Lisa Campbell, Eileen Bresnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Karenia is a genus containing at least 12 species of marine unarmored dinoflagellates. Species of the genus can be found throughout the world in both oceanic and coastal waters. They are usually sparse in abundance, but occasionally form large blooms in coastal waters. Most Karenia species produce a variety of toxins that can kill fish and other marine organisms when they bloom. In addition to toxicity, some Karenia blooms cause animal mortalities through the generation of anoxia. At least one species, Karenia brevis, produces brevetoxin that not only kills fish, marine mammals, and other animals, but also causes neurotoxic shellfish poisoning and respiratory distress in humans. The lipid soluble brevetoxin can biomagnify up the food chain through fish to top carnivores like dolphins, killing them. Karenia dinoflagellates grow slowly so physical concentrating mechanisms are probably important for the development of blooms. The blooms are highly sporadic in both time and space, although most tend to occur in summer or fall months in frontal regions. At the present time, our understanding of the causes of the blooms and ability to predict them is poor. Given the recent discovery of new species, it is likely that more Karenia species and toxins will be discovered in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-178
Number of pages23
JournalHarmful Algae
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Blooms
  • Brevetoxin
  • Dinoflagellates
  • Karenia
  • Toxic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Plant Science


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