Marine Biology

, Volume 106, Issue 3, pp 465-471

First online:

Vertical and horizontal structure in the picoplankton communities of a coastal upwelling system

  • J. A. HallAffiliated withDepartment of Botany/Zoology, Massey University
  • , W. F. VincentAffiliated withTaupo Research Laboratory, DSIR Marine and Freshwater

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The distribution of prokaryotic and eukaryotic picoplankton in the west coast upwelling-region off the South Island of New Zealand was investigated during midwinter (1988) the time of year when several commercially important fish species migrate into the region to breed. Picoplanktonic cells were major contributors to the autotrophic biomass, with > 80% of the particulate nitrogen and 39 to 55% of the total chlorophylla contained in the <2µm size-fraction. The prokaryotic picoplankton concentrations ranged from 6.3 × 105 to 2.1 × 107 cell l−1, and the eukaryotic picoplankton between 3.9 × 105 to 1.2 × 107 cells l−1. Picoplankton numbers increased with distance offshore to a maximum of ~ 3.0 × 107 cells l−1 at ~ 35 km from the coast, and then diminished towards the outer shelf and open ocean. The ratio of prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells varied between 1.01 and 4.71 in the mixed layer. Both groups declined substantially beneath the pycnocline, with no evidence of deep maxima. Prokaryotic cells dominated the planktonic cell concentrations at all but two stations, but eukaryotic cells dominated picoplankton biovolume as a result of their larger average cell size. The prokaryotic to eukaryotic picoplankton cell-number ratios in this system were considerably lower than often recorded elsewhere, and were inversely correlated with nitrate concentration. These observations show that a eukaryoticdominated picoplankton community makes a substantial contribution to autotrophic biomass in this nutrient-rich upwelling system, and may thereby play a major role in the food-web dynamics of this coastal fishery.