Size fractionation, chemotaxonomic groups and bio-optical properties of phytoplankton along a transect from the Mediterranean Sea to the SW Atlantic Ocean




chemotaxonomy, CHEMTAX, size fractionation, bio-optics, Atlantic Ocean, CDOM


The relationships between the structure of the phytoplankton community and the bio-optical properties of surface waters were studied during the TransPEGASO cruise along a transect across the Atlantic Ocean that covered seven biogeographical provinces, from the Alborán Sea (SW Mediterranean) to the Patagonian Shelf. We characterized the composition of the phytoplankton community by means of high-performance liquid chromatography and CHEMTAX pigment analyses applied to whole water and two filtration size classes (< 3 and ≥ 3 μm), flow cytometric determinations and microscopic observations. Additionally, the study was complemented by measurements of the absorption of particulate matter and coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM). The size class distribution of the chlorophyll a (Chl a) obtained from the size-fractionated filtration (SFF) was compared with that resulting from the diagnostic pigment algorithms (VU) developed by Vidussi et al. (2001) and Uitz et al. (2006), and the total Chl a–based expressions (HI) of Hirata et al. (2011). The seven provinces crossed by the transect could be divided into an oligotrophic group with Chl a < 0.25 mg m-3 comprising the tropical and subtropical Atlantic (including the Canary Current Coastal Province), and a eutrophic group (Chl a > 0.5 mg m-3) with a single Mediterranean (MEDI) sample and those from the southwestern Atlantic Shelf (SWAS). According to CHEMTAX, the most important taxa in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic were Prochlorococcus, haptophytes and Synechoccoccus, while the MEDI and SWAS were dominated by diatoms and haptophytes. Both the VU and HI algorithms, which are based on pigment composition or Chl a concentration, predicted for SWAS a high proportion of nano- and microphytoplankton, while the SFF indicated dominance of the < 3 μm size class. In addition, the CHEMTAX results indicated a high average diatom contribution in this province. However, at several SWAS stations with relatively high values of diatom Chl a estimated by CHEMTAX, the microscopic observations found only small concentrations of nano- or microplankton-sized cells. This discrepancy appeared to be due to the presence, confirmed by scanning electron microscopy, of picoplankton-sized cells of the diatom Minidiscus sp. and of Parmales (a group sharing the pigment composition with the diatoms). These findings caution against a routine assignment of diatom pigments to the microplankton size class. The total non-water absorption in the water column was dominated by CDOM. The average contribution of phytoplankton absorption for the different provinces ranged from 19.3% in the MEDI to 45.7% in the SWAS and 47% in the western tropical Atlantic (WTRA). The Chl a–specific phytoplankton absorption [aph*(443), m2 mg-1] was lower in the MEDI and SWAS than in the oligotrophic provinces. aph*(443) was negatively correlated with the first principal component derived from a principal component analysis based on the concentration of the main pigments and was not correlated with indicators of phytoplankton community size structure such as the proportion of Chl a in the < 3 μm class or a size index derived from the VU size class distribution. These findings indicate that the variability observed in aph*(443) was mainly related to differences in pigment composition and possibly to photoacclimation processes, and that any package effects due to cell size were probably masked by other factors, an outcome that may be related to the relatively small influence of size within the narrow range of Chl a concentrations (all ≤ 2.4 mg m-3) considered in our study.


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How to Cite

Nunes S, Perez GL, Latasa M, Zamanillo M, Delgado M, Ortega-Retuerta E, Marrasé C, Simó R, Estrada M. Size fractionation, chemotaxonomic groups and bio-optical properties of phytoplankton along a transect from the Mediterranean Sea to the SW Atlantic Ocean. Sci. mar. [Internet]. 2019Jun.30 [cited 2024Mar.1];83(2):87-109. Available from:



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