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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS - Vol. 406 - Feature article
The underwater light spectrum provides a complex environment for photosynthesis and growth in phytoplankton. Image: Alex Mustard

Hickman AE, Dutkiewicz S, Williams RG, Follows MJ


Modelling the effects of chromatic adaptation on phytoplankton community structure in the oligotrophic ocean


Phytoplankton species absorb light at different wavelengths depending on the pigments they contain. Hickman and colleagues investigated the role of the pigment content of different phytoplankton in forming community structures observed in the oligotrophic ocean, using a novel multi-species model. They found that phytoplankton containing phycobilipigments were restricted to surface waters, where the light field contains a broad range of visible wavelengths, while those containing carotenoids had a competitive advantage in the bluer waters at depth. In contrast, susceptibility to photoinhibition, rather than pigment content alone, led to the observed distributions of Prochlorococcus ecotypes. The species' dependencies on nutrients and temperature were also important for their distributions, supporting the view that multiple traits have co-evolved to define an organism’s niche.


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