Marine Biology

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 377–387 | Cite as

The concept of light intensity adaptation in marine phytoplankton: Some experiments with Phaeodactylum tricornutum

  • J. Beardall
  • I. Morris


The historical background on adaptation of algae to various light intensities is analysed. It is argued that there is little evidence to suggest that previous growth at low light intensities enhances the ability of an alga to utilize these low light levels. Rather, the published evidence suggests that the most general response to growth at sub-optimal light intensities is a reduced ability to utilize saturating levels. The present experiments with Phaeodactylum tricornutum Bohlin have tested this concept of light intensity adaptation. Changing photosynthetic abilities during batch growth depended on the light intensity used for growth and these changes affected interpretations of the data. When measurements were made intensities appeared to photosynthesize (at all intensities) better than did those grown at higher light levels. When the changes during batch growth were taken into account, or when the alga was grown in turbidostat cultures, a different picture was obtained. Growth at reduced light intensities was accompanied by (a) increased chlorophyll content, (b) decreased rate of light-saturated photosynthesis expressed on a chlorophyll, cell number or cell protein basis, and (c) decreased activity of RuDP carboxylase. One result suggested that growth at a suboptimal light intensity did enhance the ability to utilize lower light levels. The light-saturation curve of cells grown in batch culture at 0.7 klux showed higher slopes at the low light intensities than did those grown at 12 klux. This was most marked when photosynthesis was expressed per cell, but was also apparent when it was put on a per chlorophyll basis.


Chlorophyll Phytoplankton Light Intensity Photosynthesis Light Level 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Beardall
    • 1
  • I. Morris
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Botany and MicrobiologyUniversity College LondonLondonEngland
  2. 2.Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean SciencesA Division of Northeastern Research FoundationWest Boothbay HarborUSA

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