Distribution and chromatic adaptation of phytoplankton within a shelf sea thermocline

Hickman, Anna E., Patrick M. Holligan, C. Mark Moore, Jonathan Sharples, Vladimir Krivtsov, Matthew R. Palmer

Limnol. Oceanogr., 54(2), 2009, 525-536 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2009.54.2.0525

ABSTRACT: Observations of vertical gradients in phytoplankton community structure were made through the water column of the seasonally stratified Celtic Sea, including within the thermocline. A deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM) was located within the thermocline at all stations, coupled to the nitracline. Vertical gradients in phytoplankton community composition were routinely observed within the thermocline. The cell abundance maxima for Synechococcus occurred in the upper part of the DCM coincident with a picoeukaryote abundance minima. Picoeukaryote abundance typically increased at or just above the peak of the DCM. Diatoms were observed occasionally at the DCM peak. Pigment compositions and phytoplankton absorption spectra indicated that the different phytoplankton communities were chromatically well adapted to the spectral composition of irradiance at the depths where they occurred in the water column. Profiles of vertical eddy diffusivity revealed that timescales formixing between the phytoplankton layers within the thermocline were in excess of typical phytoplankton growth rates. The observed vertical gradients in community structure could therefore result from selection and niche partitioning of phytoplankton types on the light and nutrient gradient within the thermocline. The data further indicate that the pigments, light absorption characteristics, and cell size contribute to the phytoplankton selection process.

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