Experimental test of the effect of ultraviolet-B radiation in a planktonic community

Mostajir, Behzad, Serge Demers, Stephen de Mora, Claude Belzile, Jean-Pierre Chanut, Michel Gosselin, Suzanne Roy, Piedad Zulema Villegas, Juliette Fauchot, Josée Bouchard, David Bird, Patrick Monfort, Maurice Levasseur

Limnol. Oceanogr., 44(3), 1999, 586-596 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.1999.44.3.0586

ABSTRACT: Ultraviolet-B (UVB, 280-320 nm) radiation is a natural component of sunlight that harms organisms and disturbs natural communities in surface waters. A natural planktonic assemblage of organisms (<240 um) was studied in a mesocosm experiment for 7 d under varying conditions of UVB radiation: UVB excluded, natural radiation, and UVB enhanced at two different levels. The dynamics of several populations at different trophic levels comprising heterotrophic bacteria (<1 um), heterotrophic flagellates (2-10 um), small phytoplankton (<5 um), large phytoplankton (5-20 um), and ciliates (15-35 um) were monitored during the experiment. Enhanced UVB provoked a significant decrease in the number of ciliates (66%) and large phytoplankton (63%) relative to natural UVB con-ditions. The severe effects of UVB radiation on ciliates and large phytoplankton communities shown here would strongly limit upward transfer of mass and energy. The decline of predator abundance (ciliates) under UVB stress relative to natural conditions resulted in a positive feedback between enhanced UVB radiation and prey abundances, shown by increased abundances of bacteria (49%), heterotrophic flagellates (up to 300%), and small phytoplankton (41%). Similarly, with respect to carbon partitioning, the decrease in ciliate and diatom carbon biomass (64 and 56%, respectively) under enhanced UVB exposure was balanced by an increase in the carbon biomass of hetero-trophic bacteria (48%), heterotrophic flagellates (126%), and autotrophic flagellates (162%). As a manifestation of enhanced UVB at the community level, the ecosystem develops toward a microbial food web in preference to an herbivorous food web. Thus, enhanced UVB radiation can change the structure and dynamics of the pelagic food web.

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