Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 109–127 | Cite as

A review of factors that regulate carotenoid and chlorophyll deposition and fossil pigment abundance

  • Peter R. Leavitt


Limnological surveys show that fossil pigment concentration is an accurate predictor of algal production. However, experimental and mass flux studies indicate that >90% of pigment is degraded to colourless compounds before permanent burial. To reconcile these views, this paper reviews current literature on pigment degradation and proposes a hierarchical control model for pigment deposition and fossil abundance. Over the widest range of production, pigment deposition and fossil concentration are proportional to algal standing crop. However, within a narrower range, the actual concentration of pigment in sediments is regulated by photo- and chemical oxidation. Three phases of loss exist: rapid oxidation in the water column (T1/2=days); slower post-depositional loss in surface sediments (T1/2=years); and very slow loss of double bonds in deep sediments (T1/2=centuries). Despite losses during deposition, fossil and algal abundance remain correlated through time, so long as there is no change in basin morphometry, light penetration, stratification or deepwater oxygen content. At the finest scale, food-web processes can increase the preservation of pigments from edible algae by incorporating pigments into feces that sink rapidly and bypass water column losses. As a consequence of selective loss during deposition and initial burial, carotenoid relative abundance is an unreliable measure of phytoplankton community composition. Instead, absolute concentration — scaled to the historical maximum — should be used for fossil interpretations.

Key words

paleolimnology carotenoid chlorophyll pigment sediment fossil degradation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Leavitt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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