MEPS 218:45-61 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps218045

Use of in vivo chlorophyll a fluorescence to quantify short-term variations in the productive biomass of intertidal microphytobenthos

João Serôdio1,2,*, Jorge Marques da Silva2,3, Fernando Catarino1,2

1Instituto de Oceanografia,
2Departamento de Biologia Vegetal and
3Centro de Engenharia Biológica, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
*Present address: Departamento de Biologia, Universidade de Aveiro, Campus de Santiago 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: This study investigates the ability to use in vivo chlorophyll a fluorescence to quantify the productive biomass of undisturbed microphytobenthic communities, defined as the photosynthetic biomass present in the photic zone of the sediment and actually contributing to measurable photosynthesis. The purposes of defining and quantifying productive biomass are (1) to evaluate the effect of the migratory rhythms on the variability of microphytobenthic photosynthesis and (2) to characterise the community photophysiological response independently of the migratory stage, through the estimation of biomass-specific, community-level photosynthetic rates. The possibility of using chl a fluorescence, as measured non-destructively at the sediment surface, to trace variations in the productive biomass of microphytobenthos was confirmed by testing (1) the variability of the relationship between fluorescence emission and chl a concentration under varying temperature and irradiance levels and (2) the effects of natural variability in the vertical profile of chl a within the photic zone of the sediment on the depth-integrated fluorescence signal, F, measurable at the surface. Dark-level fluorescence, F0, was found to allow for tracing variations in chl a concentration under the range of temperature and irradiance variability found in situ. Depth-integration of fluorescence emission resulted in only a fraction of total productive biomass being detectable at the surface. However, this fraction was found to be sufficiently constant to allow for the use of F0 to proportionally follow variations in community productive biomass. On average, measurements of productive biomass on natural samples overestimated by a factor of 1.30 during low tide and underestimated by a factor of 0.66 during high tide, mostly due to variations in the chl a profile in the photic zone associated with vertical migrations. The method was applied to intertidal microphytobenthic communities of the Tagus estuary, Portugal, by non-destructively measuring F0 (using pulse amplitude modulated fluorometry) and photosynthesis (using oxygen microelectrodes) on the same samples under in situ conditions. The results showed that a significant proportion of the hourly and fortnightly variability in the community photosynthetic light response was explained solely by variations in F0 associated with movements of microalgae, identifying migratory rhythms as the main cause for short-term variability in intertidal benthic primary productivity.


KEY WORDS: Microphytobenthos · Photosynthesis · Migratory rhythms · Chlorophyll a fluorescence · Light absorption


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