In situ characterization of phytoplankton from vertical profiles of fluorescence emission spectra
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Vertical profiling of the upper ocean with a laser/fiber optic fluorometer enabled the determination of fluorescence emission spectra of photosynthetic pigments over small vertical scales. Simultaneous acquisition of phycoerythrin (PE) and chlorophyll (chl) emission spectra allowed in situ differentiation between PE-containing cells (cryptomonads and cyanobacteria) and other chl-containing autotrophs. Further, fluorescence spectral peak shifts associated with different species of PE-containing cells resulted in even finer scale in situ taxonomic differentiation. We found that the phycoerythrin fluorescence emission maxima shifted from 578 nm near the surface, to 585 μm at the base of the shallow thermocline (30% light level), and to 590 nm below the thermocline at the base of the euphotic zone (1% light level). These shifts in peak emission coincided with a taxonomic change in the PE-containing cells (as determined from analysis of discrete bottle samples) from a greater proportion of Synechococcus spp. in the upper water column to a greater proportion of cryptomonads at the base of the euphotic zone. These results indicate that the composition of the phytoplankton assemblage may be assessed in situ without sample collection.
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