The photosynthetic pigments of phototrophic microorganisms cover different regions of the solar light spectrum. Utilization of the light spectrum can be interpreted in terms of classical niche theory, as the light spectrum offers opportunities for niche differentiation and allows coexistence of species absorbing different colors of light. However, which spectral niches are available for phototrophic microorganisms? Here, we show that the answer is hidden in the vibrations of the water molecule. Water molecules absorb light at specific wavebands that match the energy required for their stretching and bending vibrations. Although light absorption at these specific wavelengths appears only as subtle shoulders in the absorption spectrum of pure water, these subtle shoulders create large gaps in the underwater light spectrum due to the exponential nature of light attenuation. Model calculations show that the wavebands between these gaps define a series of distinct niches in the underwater light spectrum. Strikingly, these distinct spectral niches match the light absorption spectra of the major photosynthetic pigments. This suggests that vibrations of the water molecule have played
Original languageEnglish
JournalISME Journal
Journal publication date2007

ID: 393006