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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 393:69-82 (2009)  -  DOI:

Role of krill versus bottom-up factors in controlling phytoplankton biomass in the northern Antarctic waters of South Georgia

M. J. Whitehouse1,*, A. Atkinson1, P. Ward1, R. E. Korb1, P. Rothery2, S. Fielding1

1British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environmental Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
2Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Natural Environmental Research Council, Monks Wood, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon PE28 2LS, UK

ABSTRACT: The extent to which Antarctic phytoplankton stocks are controlled by ‘bottom-up’ and/or ‘top-down’ factors is highly variable. Here we consider data collected at South Georgia during 3 summer surveys that recorded substantial hydrographic variability. A suite of bottom-up and top-down controlling factors were measured simultaneously at the mesoscale. Sea surface temperature varied by >2°C, macronutrients ranged from near-winter concentrations to near-depleted, while mean densities of a major grazer, krill Euphausia superba, varied between near-zero and >400 g wet mass m–2. A general linear model was used to identify the main factors implicated in the observed differences in phytoplankton biomass. Despite east-to-west and on- to off-shelf temperature gradients, temperature per se was not implicated in phytoplankton variability. Also, while there was an abundance of NO3-N in surface waters, NH4-N was the key nutrient throughout. A domed relationship between phytoplankton and krill peaked between 2 and 4 mg chlorophyll a m–3 and 6 and 30 g krill m–2. The positive side of this dome was represented by the west off-shelf region downstream of South Georgia. Here, an ample supply of micro- and macronutrients promoted high primary production, and low densities of krill presumably had little grazing effect. This positive relationship between krill and phytoplankton biomasses was interpreted as krill accumulating in areas of good feeding conditions. The negative side of the dome was typified by the east off-shelf region, where macronutrients remained high, primary production rates were low, and krill densities were very high. The grazing rates calculated here suggested that krill affect their food stocks severely, and the negative krill–phytoplankton relationship in this region may reflect locally high krill densities driving down their food supply.

KEY WORDS: Antarctic phytoplankton · Macronutrients · NH4 · Temperature · Grazing effect

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Cite this article as: Whitehouse MJ, Atkinson A, Ward P, Korb RE, Rothery P, Fielding S (2009) Role of krill versus bottom-up factors in controlling phytoplankton biomass in the northern Antarctic waters of South Georgia. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 393:69-82.

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