, Volume 243, Issue 1–4, pp 73–86 | Cite as

Physiological and morphological processes in the Alpine snow alga Chloromonas nivalis (Chlorophyceae) during cyst formation

  • Daniel RemiasEmail author
  • Ulf Karsten
  • Cornelius Lütz
  • Thomas Leya
Original Article


Amongst a specialised group of psychrophilic microalgae that have adapted to thrive exclusively in summer snow fields, Chloromonas nivalis has been reported as a species causing green, orange or pink blooms in many alpine and polar regions worldwide. Nevertheless, the cytology, ecophysiology and taxonomy of this species are still unresolved. Intracellular processes during cyst formation, which is the dominant stage on snow fields, were examined with samples from the European Alps to better understand the cellular strategies of a green alga living in this harsh habitat. We show with two different methods, i.e. oxygen optode fluorometry and by chlorophyll fluorescence, that the cysts are photosynthetically highly active, although they do not divide, and that Chloromonas nivalis can cope with low as well as high light conditions. During cyst formation, the chloroplast is fragmented into several smaller parts, enlarging the surface to volume ratio. The pool of xanthophyll-cycle pigments is significantly enlarged, which is different from other snow algae. The cytoplasm is filled with lipid bodies containing astaxanthin, a secondary carotenoid that causes the typical orange colour. The cyst wall surface possesses characteristic elongate flanges, which are assembled extracellulary by accumulation of material in the periplasmatic interspace. Comparison of Chloromonas nivalis samples from different locations (Austrian Alps, Spitsbergen) by molecular methods indicates genetic variations due to spatial isolation, while a North American strain has no close relationship to the taxon.


Algal photosynthesis Astaxanthin Cyst ultrastructure Taxonomy UV protection 



light microscopy


mycosporin-like amino acid


scanning electron microscopy


transmission electron microscopy


violaxanthin, antheraxanthin and zeaxanthin



We thank the Institute of Ecology, University of Innsbruck, for admittance to their Limnological Field Station at Lake Gossenkölle (Tyrol) and the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Project 200810 to C. L.) for support. U. K. thanks the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (KA 899/16-1) for a grant which supported his sabbatical at the University of Innsbruck. T. L. also is indebted to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft for funding his snow algal research (LE 1275/2-2). Furthermore, we thank Hans Wastian and Siegfried Aigner for assistance in the field, Werner Kofler for the SEM image generation, Belina DeCarli for TEM sectioning and image creation, Thomas Pröschold for providing the gene sequence of strain CCCryo 154-01 as well as Christian Wiencke (AWI Bremerhaven) for lending the PAM.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

709_2010_123_MOESM1_ESM.doc (74 kb)
ESM Table 1 List of algal strains used in this study, either from CCCryo or from field samples. Cd Dunaliella tertiolecta Chlamydomonas, Cr Chloromonas, nd not determined, na not available, question mark clade association unclear (DOC 73 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Remias
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ulf Karsten
    • 2
  • Cornelius Lütz
    • 1
  • Thomas Leya
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of BotanyUniversity of InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria
  2. 2.Institute of Biological Sciences-Applied EcologyUniversity of RostockRostockGermany
  3. 3.Fraunhofer-IBMTPotsdam-GolmGermany

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