Functional absorption cross-section of Photosystem II
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Phytoplankton indirectly influence climate through their role in the ocean biological carbon pump. In the Southern Ocean, the subantarctic zone represents an important carbon sink, yet variables limiting phytoplankton growth are not fully constrained. Using three shipboard bioassay experiments on three separate voyages, we evaluated the seasonality of iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) co-limitation of subantarctic phytoplankton growth south of Tasmania, Australia. We observed a strong seasonal variation in a phytoplankton Fe limitation signal, with a summer experiment showing the greatest response to Fe additions. An autumn experiment suggested that other factors co-limited phytoplankton growth, likely low silicic acid concentrations. The phytoplankton responses to Mn additions were subtle and readily masked by the responses to Fe. Using flow cytometry, we observed that Mn may influence the growth of some small phytoplankton taxa in late summer/autumn, when they represent an important part of the phytoplankton community. In addition, Mn induced changes in the bulk photophysiology signal of the spring community. These results suggest that the importance of Mn may vary seasonally, and that its control on phytoplankton growth may be associated with specific taxa.
Southern Ocean phytoplankton growth is limited by low iron (Fe) supply and irradiance, impacting the strength of the biological carbon pump. Unfavourable upper ocean conditions such as low nutrient concentrations can lead to the formation of deep chlorophyll or biomass maxima (DCM/DBM). While common in the Southern Ocean, these features remain under-studied due to their subsurface location. To increase our understanding of their occurrence, we studied the responses of phytoplankton communities from a Southern Ocean DCM to increasing light, Fe, and manganese (Mn) levels. The DCM communities were light- and Fe-limited, but light limitation did not increase phytoplankton Fe requirements. The greatest physiological responses were observed under combined Fe/light additions, which stimulated macronutrient drawdown, biomass production and the growth of large diatoms. Combined Mn/light additions induced subtle changes in Fe uptake rates and community composition, suggesting species-specific Mn requirements. These results provide valuable information on Southern Ocean DCM phytoplankton physiology.