Using HPLC pigment analysis to investigate phytoplankton taxonomy: The importance of knowing your species

Xabier Irigoien*, Bettina Meyer, Roger Harris, Derek Harbour

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Phytoplankton microscopic enumerations and HPLC analyses of their pigments were performed weekly for a complete year at a coastal station in the English Channel. The taxonomic composition of the phytoplankton community was assessed using the HPLC results combined with the mathematical tool CHEMTAX in two different ways. Firstly, without using the species level taxonomic information obtained at the microscopic level (blind analyses), and secondly by including the information from the microscopic taxonomic analysis (directed analyses). The results indicate that, due to the particular pigment composition of some species (for example, the dinoflagellate, Karenia mikimotoi and the haptophyte, Phaeocystis pouchetii), a blind analysis would result in very significant errors in the taxonomic determination of the bloom events at this station. Major blooms of Karenia mikimotoi and P. pouchetii were mistaken for blooms of diatoms on the basis of a blind HPLC-CHEMTAX analysis. Only with the information from the microscopic observations was it possible to obtain an accurate representation of the phytoplankton community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-82
Number of pages6
JournalHelgoland Marine Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements Thanks are due to S.W. Gibb for his helpful comments on previous versions of the manuscript. This research was supported by the NERC Marine Productivity thematic programme GST/02/2760. B. Meyer was supported by an EU grant (TMR, MAS3-CT96-5032). Thanks are due to the captains and crew of the RV Squilla and RV Sepia for collecting the samples.


  • High performance liquid chromatography
  • Phytoplankton composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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