, Volume 117, Issue 1–2, pp 247–257 | Cite as

Population and community responses of phytoplankton to fluctuating light

  • Elena Litchman


Light is a major resource in aquatic ecosystems and has a complex pattern of spatio-temporal variability, yet the effects of dynamic light regimes on communities of phytoplankton are largely unexplored. I examined whether and how fluctuating light supply affects the structure and dynamics of phytoplankton communities. The effect of light fluctuations was tested at two average irradiances: low, 25 μmol quanta m−2 s−1 and high, 100 μmol quanta m−2 s−1 in 2- and 18-species communities of freshwater phytoplankton. Species diversity, and abundances of individual species and higher taxa, depended significantly on both the absolute level and the degree of variability in light supply, while total density, total biomass, and species richness responded only to light level. In the two-species assemblage, fluctuations increased diversity at both low and high average irradiances and in the multispecies community fluctuations increased diversity at high irradiance but decreased diversity at low average irradiance. Species richness was higher under low average irradiance and was not affected by the presence or absence of fluctuations. Diatom abundance was increased by fluctuations, especially at low average irradiance, where they became the dominant group, while cyanobacteria and green algae dominated low constant light and all high light treatments. Within each taxonomic group, however, there was no uniform pattern in species responses to light fluctuations: both the magnitude and direction of response were species-specific. The temporal regime of light supply had a significant effect on the growth rates of individual species grown in monocultures. Species responses to the regime of light supply in monocultures qualitatively agreed with their abundances in the community experiments. The results indicate that the temporal regime of light supply may influence structure of phytoplankton communities by differentially affecting growth rates and mediating species competition.

Key words Temporal heterogeneity Light fluctuations Phytoplankton Community structure Diversity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elena Litchman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, 1987 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108, USAUS

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