AME 50:157-167 (2008)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ame01149

Seasonal changes in phytoplankton growth and microzooplankton grazing at an Antarctic coastal site

Imojen Pearce, Andrew T. Davidson*, Simon Wright, Rick van den Enden

Australian Government Antarctic Division and Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Channel Highway, Kingston, 7050 Tasmania, Australia
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Despite being a major pathway for carbon flow in aquatic systems, little is known about annual changes in microzooplankton grazing in Antarctic waters and its top-down control of phytoplankton. We determined changes in the growth and mortality of phytoplankton in near-shore waters off East Antarctica between February and November 2004 using the grazing dilution technique. Results showed large seasonal variation in the microzooplankton grazing rate and top-down control of phytoplankton. In late summer (February to March), microzooplankton consumed around 34% of primary production and 33% of the phytoplankton standing stock d–1. As sea ice formed in early April, grazing mortality increased to 762% of primary production and 72% of the phytoplankton standing stock d–1, coinciding with a rapid decline in phytoplankton biomass, cell volume and chlorophyll a concentration. In winter (late April to September), phytoplankton abundance and productivity were insufficient to sustain extensive herbivory; only 5 of the 12 winter experiments yielded microzooplankton grazing rates that were significantly different from zero. The few significant experiments showed that microheterotrophs occasionally consumed ca. 54% of the phytoplankton standing stock and >100% primary production d–1. In spring (October to November), rates of microzooplankton grazing and phytoplankton growth were highly significant but negative. Our study showed that microzooplankton contributed substantially to the termination of the summer phytoplankton bloom. Thereafter, microzooplankton grazing, though occasionally substantial, was commonly low or insignificant. Furthermore, during the aphotic Antarctic winter, negative rates of phytoplankton growth commonly exceeded those of microzooplankton grazing, suggesting that herbivory was not the principal cause of phytoplankton mortality.


KEY WORDS:Antarctic · Microzooplankton · Grazing · Phytoplankton growth


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Cite this article as: Pearce I, Davidson AT, Wright S, van den Enden R (2008) Seasonal changes in phytoplankton growth and microzooplankton grazing at an Antarctic coastal site. Aquat Microb Ecol 50:157-167. https://doi.org/10.3354/ame01149

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