Vertical heterogeneity in physiological characteristics of Ulva spp. mats

E.J. Malta, J.W. Rijstenbil, P.E.M. Brouwer, J.C. Kromkamp

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    In eutrophic areas, green macroalgae are frequently and for long periods arranged in mats, resulting in a steep light gradient. This study investigates the effect of this gradient on physiological characteristics [tissue nitrogen content, maximal photosynthetic efficiency (Fv/Fm), glutathione levels and redox ratio, absorbance and absorption spectra] of the green macroalga Ulva spp. Mats were sampled during the build-up (June), stationary (July), and decomposing (September) phases of a macroalgal bloom in the Veerse Meer, a eutrophic brackish (salinity 15–20 psu) lake in the southwest Netherlands. Water samples were taken for nutrient analyses. At all three sampling dates, the mats were composed almost entirely of Ulva spp.; in September the mats were in decay and covered with silt and epiphytes. In June and July, total dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentration (DIN) of the water within the mat was significantly higher than outside the mat. Pronounced vertical differences were found in tissue N, Fv/Fm values, total glutathione levels, glutathione redox ratios, and absorbance. In June and July, tissue N decreased from over 2.2% dry weight (DW; N-sufficient) in the bottom layers to around 1% DW (minimum level for survival) in the top layers. Wide-band absorption increased with depth in the mat and throughout the season, probably due to higher Chl a and b and lutein contents. The shape of the absorption spectrum was similar for all layers. The absorption of the silt/epiphyte film on the top Ulva layer was highest; its absorption spectrum (high absorption in the 500–560 nm range) indicates that the film on the top layers of the macroalgal mats mainly consisted of diatoms. In June, Fv/Fm and the glutathione redox ratio of the algae increased with depth in the layer, while total glutathione decreased. Low Fv/Fm values in the bottom and middle layers in September reflect the bad condition of the algae; the mats were largely decaying. It is concluded that multiple growth-limiting gradients occur in macroalgal mats: upper layers suffer from nitrogen limitation and photoinhibition while bottom layers are light limited. The algae in the mat acclimatize to low light conditions by increasing their absorption through increased pigment contents and by higher photosynthetic efficiency during the build-up and stationary period. This study qualifies the glutathione redox ratio as a promising candidate for stress indicator in macroalgae and provides suggestions for its further development
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1029-1038
    JournalMarine Biology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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