MEPS 251:115-126 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps251115

Diatom activity within soft sediments: behavioural and physiological processes

Maria A. Saburova*, Igor G. Polikarpov

A.O. Kovalevsky Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas, Prospekt Nakhimova 2, Sevastopol 99011, Ukraine
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: An investigation of vertical distribution, rhythms of vertical migration and division of epipelic free-living diatom algae was carried out at different sediment depths on intertidal sandflat in the Chernaya River Estuary (Kandalaksha Gulf, White Sea, Russia) during the summers of 1994-2001. The depth of penetration of viable microalgae cells in the sediment did not exceed 4.2 cm in the areas with clay sublayers, where zones with high negative Eh values were located closer to the surface. Diatom habitats in the areas with coarse sand sublayers extended to more than 8 cm depth. Approximately 40% of diatoms were present in the topmost 2 mm layer. The subsurface portion of diatom cells on average was concentrated within the layer with Eh values ranging from 0 to -80 mV. Eh values below -100 mV limited diatom penetration in deep anoxic sediment layers. The deep portion of diatom populations consisted basically of dividing cells. A cytological analysis of diatom cell distribution showed that the proportion of cells in the different phases of mitosis increased with increasing depth, and reached 80 to 90% at a depth of 2 to 3 cm. The regular presence of dividing diatom cells almost exclusively in aphotic anoxic sediments was noted first. The study of the dynamics of microphytobenthic vertical distribution revealed active diurnal vertical migration depending on temperature, light and tide regimes. The frequency of doublet cells (FDC) in epipelic diatom populations was in inverse proportion to cell concentrations in the photic zone. Diatom division was registered only during incubation in the porewater, which was rich in inorganic nutrients and dissolved organic matter. We suppose that a more stable habitat with higher concentrations of nutrients (especially nitrogen) in their more reduced forms (NH4+ instead of NO3-) provides more favourable conditions for cell growth and division at the depth of several cm within the sediment compared, to the surface layer. Migration activity of diatom algae is an adaptation which permits cells to consume energy and to undergo fission under optimum conditions in spatially disconnected zones.


KEY WORDS: Epipelic diatoms · Vertical distribution · Vertical migration · Cell cycle · Intertidal sandflat


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