Changes in phytoplankton composition from large diatoms to small cryptophytes and their implications to the food web have been previously associated with rapid warming of surface waters in the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). However, ecological and physiological attributes that favor dominance of these flagellates in the region have not been fully explored. The overall aim of this work was to characterize the phytoplankton pigments and assemblages in relation to environmental conditions during three successive summer cruises (2013, 2014 and 2015) in the Gerlache Strait − a coastal area in the northern WAP. Data on phytoplankton (through HPLC/CHEMTAX pigment analysis) and associated physical (water column structure) and chemical (macronutrients) parameters were determined. Cryptophytes were conspicuously found in shallow mixed layers, under stratified conditions, as the main contributors to total phytoplankton biomass. Their greatest contributions were associated with warmer surface waters at the northwestern sector of the strait. Other phytoplankton groups (Phaeocystis antarctica in 2013 and small diatoms in both 2014 and 2015) were also important components. Photoprotective carotenoids (mainly alloxanthin), with an important role in preventing photodamage caused by excess light, were closely linked with the dominance of cryptophytes at surface layers. The results of this study suggest that the prevalence of cryptophytes in WAP coastal waters can be, to a great extent, due to a particular ability of those small flagellates to successfully grow in highly illuminated conditions in shallow upper mixed layers and strong water column stratification.
|Number of pages
|Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
|Early online date
|27 Feb 2017
|Published - 1 Mar 2018