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Enhanced primary production and nutrient regeneration within aggregated marine diatoms

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Blooms of chain-forming diatoms often terminate with the mass flocculation and subsequent settlement of cells from the nutrient-depleted euphotic zone. While mass diatom aggregation has been suggested as an adaptive mechanism for placing resting spores in the deep sea, we hypothesized that aggregation may confer an immediate adaptive advantage to the associated diatoms as well. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the photosynthetic activity, pigment composition and nutrient-uptake rates of aggregated and suspended diatoms over time. Diatom aggregates were collected by SCUBA divers in the Santa Barbara Channel (34°23′N; 119°50′W) on 4 March 1987 and monitored for 9 d in the laboratory. Diatom aggregates sustained chlorophyll a-specific primary production rates two to nine times higher than those of freely suspended diatoms from the surrounding seawater. The timing of maximum productivity was strongly correlated with the appearance of remineralized ammonia within the aggregates. Chlorophyll a-specific nitrate-uptake rates were routinely three to nine times lower in diatom aggregates than in the surrounding seawater. Primary production and pigment concentrations of diatom aggregates aged in situ displayed changes similar to those observed in the laboratory. These results suggest that diatoms associated with aggregates maintain higher photosynthetic rates than freely suspended diatoms by efficiently exploiting remineralized ammonia within the aggregate microenvironment, in preference to external nitrate sources. The enhanced nutrient environment within aggregates may be important for understanding the adaptive significance of the mass flocculation of diatom blooms.

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Communicated by M. G. Hadfield, Honolulu

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Gotschalk, C.C., Alldredge, A.L. Enhanced primary production and nutrient regeneration within aggregated marine diatoms. Marine Biology 103, 119–129 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00391070

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  • Chlorophyll
  • Nutrient Environment
  • Euphotic Zone
  • Scuba Diver
  • Pigment Composition