Polar Biology

, Volume 36, Issue 8, pp 1107–1123 | Cite as

A mesoscale study of phytoplankton assemblages around the South Shetland Islands (Antarctica)

  • Cristina García-Muñoz
  • Luis M. Lubián
  • Carlos M. García
  • Ángeles Marrero-Díaz
  • Pablo Sangrà
  • Maria Vernet
Original Paper


Phytoplankton assemblages around the South Shetland Islands (SSI) were closely related to mesoscale physical features, based on high spatial resolution sampling performed during the summer of 2010. Sampling was done in 8 transects with stations 9 km apart. Phytoplankton groups were described using flow cytometry, FlowCAM and HPLC/CHEMTAX pigment analysis. Nanophytoplankton (2–20 μm) was predominant throughout the study area, which was dominated by small diatoms. They were distributed along the stratified waters of the SSI shelf and in the centre of the Bransfield Strait where an anticyclonic eddy was detected, established between two frontal structures [Bransfield Front and Peninsula Front (PF)]. The highest concentrations correlated with mid-to-high temperatures (1.07 °C) and mid-salinities (34.03) corresponding with Transitional Bellinghausen Water stations. Haptophytes distribution co-varied with small diatoms but also appeared in those vertical mixed stations with Transitional Zonal Water with Weddell Sea influence. A shift from smaller to larger diatoms was detected at the ice edge in the Antarctic Sound. Cryptophytes were restricted to stratified stations of the SSI shelf and those associated with the PF, while small prasinophytes were the only group occupying deeper and colder waters of the Drake Passage, beneath the Antarctic Surface Water, north of a narrow frontal region described here for the first time (Shetland Front). Phytoplankton assemblages around the SSI were strongly connected with the Bransfield Current System, supporting a clockwise circulation around the archipelago. The Bransfield Current System components are permanent structures during the austral summer suggesting that the distribution of phytoplankton, which responds to these structures, must also be a quasi-permanent feature.


South Shetland Islands Phytoplankton Small diatoms Mesoscale Water masses Fronts 



We are grateful to the captain, crew and scientists on board the R.V. Hespérides for their co-operation and logistic support during the cruise. Thanks are also given to Eduardo Ramírez and Wendy Kozlowski for their assistance in analysing plankton samples and CHEMTAX management, respectively. We also thank three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a previous version of this manuscript. This work was supported by the CTM2008-06343-C02-02/ANT project from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education. C.G-M.’s work was supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), JAE-Predoc 2009. M.V. was supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation ANT05-28728.

Supplementary material

300_2013_1333_MOESM1_ESM.doc (60 kb)
Table 1. Supplementary material. HPLC Pigments quantified, average retention time, extinction coefficients applied and application wavelengths used (DOC 59 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristina García-Muñoz
    • 1
  • Luis M. Lubián
    • 1
  • Carlos M. García
    • 2
  • Ángeles Marrero-Díaz
    • 3
  • Pablo Sangrà
    • 3
  • Maria Vernet
    • 4
  1. 1.Departamento de Ecología y Gestión CosteraInstituto de Ciencias Marinas de Andalucía (ICMAN-CSIC)Puerto RealSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar y AmbientalesUniversidad de CádizPuerto RealSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Física, Facultad de Ciencias del MarUniversidad de Las Palmas de Gran CanariaLas Palmas de Gran CanariaSpain
  4. 4.Integrative Oceanographic Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, MC 0218University of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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