MEPS 542:51-62 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11539

Photoacclimation of natural phytoplankton communities

Jason R. Graff1,*, Toby K. Westberry1, Allen J. Milligan1, Matthew B. Brown1, Giorgio Dall’Olmo2, Kristen M. Reifel1, Michael J. Behrenfeld1

1Oregon State University, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, 2082 Cordley Hall, Corvallis, OR 97330, USA
2Plymouth Marine Laboratory, United Kingdom and National Centre for Earth Observation, Prospect Place, The Hoe, Plymouth, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Phytoplankton regulate internal pigment concentrations in response to light and nutrient availability. Chlorophyll a to phytoplankton carbon ratios (chl:C phyto) are commonly reported as a function of growth irradiance (Eg) for evaluating the photoacclimation response of phytoplankton. In contrast to most culture experiments, natural phytoplankton communities experience fluctuating environmental conditions, making it difficult to compare field and lab observations. Observing and understanding photoacclimation in nature is important for deciphering changes in chl:C phyto resulting from environmental forcings and for accurately estimating net primary production (NPP) in models which rely on a parameterized description of photoacclimation. Here we employ direct analytical measurements of C phyto and parallel high-resolution biomass estimates from particulate backscattering (bbp) and flow cytometry to investigate chl:C phyto in natural phytoplankton communities. Chl:C phyto observed over a wide range of Eg in the field was consistent with photoacclimation responses inferred from satellite observations. Field-based photoacclimation observations for a mixed natural community contrast with laboratory results for single species grown in continuous light and nutrient-replete conditions. Applying a carbon-based NPP model to our field data for a north-south transect in the Atlantic Ocean results in estimates that closely match 14C depth-integrated NPP for the same cruise and with historical records for the distinct biogeographic regions of the Atlantic Ocean. Our results are consistent with previous satellite and model observations of cells growing in natural or fluctuating light and showcase how direct measurements of Cphyto can be applied to explore phytoplankton photophysiology, growth rates, and production at high spatial resolution in situ.


KEY WORDS: Phytoplankton carbon · Chlorophyll · Growth irradiance · Photoacclimation · Growth rate · Primary production · Nutrients


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Cite this article as: Graff JR, Westberry TK, Milligan AJ, Brown MB, Dall’Olmo G, Reifel KM, Behrenfeld MJ (2016) Photoacclimation of natural phytoplankton communities. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 542:51-62. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11539

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