Effects of iron concentration on pigment composition in Phaeocystis antarctica grown at low irradiance

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Interpretation of photosynthetic pigment data using iterative programs such as CHEMTAX are widely used to examine algal community structure in the surface ocean. The accuracy of such programs relies on understanding the effects of environmental parameters on the pigment composition of taxonomically diverse algal groups. Phaeocystis antarctica is an important contributor to total autotrophic production and the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and sulfur in the Southern Ocean. Here we report the results of a laboratory culture experiment in which we examined the effects of ambient dissolved iron concentration on the pigment composition of colonial P. antarctica, using a new P. antarctica strain isolated from the southern Ross Sea in December 2003. Low-iron (<0.2 nM dissolved Fe) filtered Ross Sea seawater was used to prepare the growth media, thus allowing sub-nanomolar iron additions without the use of EDTA to control dissolved iron concentrations. The experiment was conducted at relatively low irradiance (−20 μE m−2 s−1), with P. antarctica primarily present in the colonial form—conditions that are typical of the southern Ross Sea during austral spring. Relative to the iron-limited control treatments (0.22 nM dissolved Fe), iron addition mediated a decrease in the ratio of 19′-hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin to chlorophyll a, and an increase in the ratio of fucoxanthin to chlorophyll a. Our results also suggest that the ratio of 19′-hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin to chlorophyll c3 (Hex:Chl c3ratio) may be a characteristic physiological indicator for the iron-nutritional status of colonial P. antarctica, with higher Hex:Chl c3 ratios (>3) indicative of Fe stress. We also observed that the ratio of fucoxanthin to 19′-hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin (Fuco:Hex ratio) was highly correlated (r2 = 0.82) with initial dissolved Fe concentration, with Fuco:Hex ratios <0.05 measured under iron-limited conditions (dissolved Fe <0.45 nM). Our results corroborate and extend the results of previous experimental studies, and, combined with pigment measurements from the southern Ross Sea, are consistent with the hypothesis that the interconversion of fucoxanthin and 19′-hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin by colonial P. antarctica is used as a photo-protective or light-harvesting mechanism, according to the availability of dissolved iron.

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