Potential causes for the unequal contribution of picophytoplankton to total biomass and productivity in oligotrophic waters

Emilio Fernández*, Emilio Marañón, Xosé Anxelu G. Morán, Pablo Serret

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Size-fractionated chlorophyll a and primary production measurements during 7 latitudinal cruises (56 stations) in the Atlantic Ocean indicate that in subtropical and tropical regions the relative contribution of large (L) (> 2 μm) phytoplankton to total (T) chlorophyll a biomass (B) is smaller (BL:BT ratio = 0.25 ± 0.01 SE) than their contribution to total primary production (P) (PL:PT ratio = 0.45 ± 0.02). This implies a lower assimilation number for picoplankton than for larger cells: 1.5 ± 0.2 and 3.7 ± 0.3 mg C mg chlorophyll a h-1, respectively (n = 90). During short-term time-course experiments in subtropical and tropical waters of the North Atlantic, a > 50% reduction in the abundance of picoplankton, mainly Prochlorococcus spp., took place as early as the first 2 h of incubation. This suggests that long incubation times in bottle experiments can lead to underestimations of primary production rates, at least in oligotrophic waters. The phytoplankton size-structure remained fairly constant throughout the experiments, suggesting that the high PL:PT ratios in these environments cannot be due to enhanced loss rates of small-sized phytoplankton as a result of bottle enclosure. Our results indicate that the observed disagreement between BL:BT and PL:PT ratios is not necessarily an experimental artifact, but could be related to a higher light utilization efficiency of larger phytoplankton.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-109
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Jun 3 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Oligotrophic waters
  • Picoplankton
  • Primary production
  • Size-fractionated chlorophyll

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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