Size-dependent photosynthetic variability in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre

Binglin Li, David M. Karl, Ricardo M. Letelier, Matthew J. Church

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33 Scopus citations


Photosynthesis-irradiance (P-E) relationships and in situ measurements of primary production for 2 phytoplankton size fractions (>2 μm and 0.2 to 2 μm) were used to evaluate variability in photophysiology over a 5 yr period (2004 to 2009) in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG). Picophytoplankton (0.2 to 2 μm) were dominant contributors to euphotic zone chlorophyll a (chl a) concentrations (averaging 91 ± 2% [mean ± SD] of the 0 to 125 m depth-integrated inventories) and accounted for a major fraction (averaging 74 ± 7%) of the in situ, depth-integrated, 14Cbased primary production. Short-term in vitro P-E experiments were conducted to examine the photophysiology of both phytoplankton size classes. Results from these experiments demonstrated that in the well-lit ocean (0 to 45 m) chl a normalized maximum rates of photosynthesis, P chl max′, were significantly greater among the larger phytoplankton size class than in the smaller size fraction (1-way ANOVA, p < 0.01), while in the dimly lit region (125 m) there were no significant sizedependent differences in P chl max (1-way ANOVA, p > 0.05). Neither the initial slope of the P-E relationships, α, nor the light intensities required to saturate photosynthesis, E k, varied significantly between the 2 size fractions. Although larger phytoplankton appear to constitute a relatively small fraction of phytoplankton biomass and production in this ecosystem, the photophysiological responses of plankton in this size class demonstrated considerable variability, suggesting these larger size phytoplankton experience time-variable changes in growth despite persistently oligotrophic habitat conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-40
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Oct 28 2011


  • North Pacific
  • Oligotrophic
  • Photophysiology
  • Photosynthesis
  • Phytoplankton
  • Primary production


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