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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 180:51-64 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps180051

Nature and ecological implications of algal pigment diversity on the Molenplaat tidal flat (Westerschelde estuary, SW Netherlands)

Cathy H. Lucas*, Patrick M. Holligan

School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, Southampton Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: Depth profiles of chlorophyll a (chl a), its degradation products, and accessory pigment markers from 5 sites with differing sediment properties highlighted the role of physical and biological processes in re-distributing microalgal biomass both horizontally and vertically around the Molenplaat tidal flat. Intermediate-scale distribution of chl a was highly correlated with sedimentological parameters, with biomass greatest at siltier sites. Fucoxanthin:chl a ratios of 0.35 to 1.60 indicated that the microphytobenthos community was dominated by diatoms in both silty and sandy sediments. Cyanobacteria (zeaxanthin) were also present, mainly in September. Other sources of algae came in the form of deposited water column material. Peridinin, 19'hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin, and to a lesser extent chl b were the main pigments, primarily found at silty sites. Between June and September, the relative amounts of accessory pigments increased suggesting that inputs of material from the water column occurred during this period. Although benthic and water column pigments were found in the surface layers of silty and sandy sites, there were pronounced differences in biomass and vertical distribution. At sandy sites, homogenous vertical distributions of chl a in the upper 2 cm of sediment, together with low phaeopigment levels and the absence of water colum pigments below the surface layer, suggest that accumulation of in situ and allochthonous sources of microalgae is insignificant. Material is subjected to a continuous cycle of burial and resuspension during each tidal cycle and through the action of bioturbators such as Arenicola marina. There was a pronounced peak in chl a biomass at the silty sites in June. Rapidly decreasing chl a over the top 1 cm suggests that degradation was more rapid than sediment mixing. Large amounts of phaeopigments were produced, with the relative contribution switching from phaeophytins (March/April) to phaeophorbides (September) as the role of the herbivorous community in chl a cycling became more significant. An increase in relative contributions of accessory pigments both at the surface and in deeper layers between spring and autumn suggest that silty sites are a sink for sedimenting algae from the water column during this time. During the late autumn-winter, chl a biomass and pigment diversity decreased considerably, coincident with reduced biological activity and increased physical mixing.

KEY WORDS: Microphytobenthos · Diatoms · HPLC · Algal pigments · Degradation processes · Sedimentation · Tidal flats

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