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Phytoplankton biomass and size structure across trophic gradients in the southern California Current and adjacent ocean ecosystems

TitlePhytoplankton biomass and size structure across trophic gradients in the southern California Current and adjacent ocean ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsTaylor A.G, Landry MR
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Date Published2018/03
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0171-8630
Accession NumberWOS:000428818700001
Keywordsarabian sea; deep chlorophyll maximum; Enhanced; Environmental Sciences & Ecology; food-web; fresh-water; global carbon-cycle; Grazing; interannual variability; Marine & Freshwater Biology; microbial community structure; microbial loop; mixotrophic protists; Ocean richness; oceanography; pacific; Picoeukaryotes; Prochlorococcus; rica upwelling dome; subtropical north; Synechococcus

We used a combination of epifluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry to investigate variability of phytoplankton biomass and size structure with ocean richness, measured as autotrophic carbon (AC) or chlorophyll a (chl a). Samples were collected from mixed layers of 4 North Pacific ecosystems: the California Current (CCE), Equatorial Pacific, Costa Rica Dome, and subtropical gyre (station ALOHA). Both nano- (2-20 mu m) and microphytoplankton (20-200 mu m) in creased biomass as power functions with increasing richness, with a sharper slope leading to microphytoplankton dominance at high biomass. The AC: chl a ratio (mu g:mu g) was also well fit by a power function, varying from similar to 170 to 20 over the range of <0.06 to >11.7 mu g chl a l(-1). Prochlorococcus and diatoms were major biomass contributors at poorer and richer extremes, respectively, but mixed flagellates (prymnesiophytes, dinoflagellates, others) comprised a surprisingly consistent half of AC over the richness range. While pico- (<2 mu m) and nanophytoplankton co-dominated at low chl a, all picophytoplankton (Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus, picoeukaryotes) declined significantly in richer coastal waters. Their decrease was consistent with a previously proposed mechanism linking Prochlorococcus decline to increased productivity and grazing pressure on heterotrophic bacteria, termed here the enhanced microbial loop hypothesis. Generalized additive models further indicated that biotic variables explained more of picophytoplankton variability than abiotic variables in CCE coastal waters. Density-independent grazing may be a strong driver of picophytoplankton selection across trophic gradients, with implications for strategy trade-offs in growth rate and grazing resistance, and for representing mortality in marine ecosystem models. [GRAPHICS] Conceptual depiction of the Enhanced Microbial Loop hypo thesis at high chl a Conceptual depiction: Dennis Mc Thompson


Our study demonstrated that acoustic data collected on-board vessels of opportunity provide useful information for studying and monitoring the mid-trophic level (MTL) of open-ocean marine ecosystems, and it established a baseline for future studies. We recommend endeavours for acoustic data collection, management and storage be continued and expanded, and encourage more ecological studies of the composition, structure and dynamics of the MTLs in the Southern Ocean.

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