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Vertical migration of phytoplankton in coastal waters with different UVR transparency

Sabine Ulrike Gerbersdorf1* and Hendrik Schubert2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Hydraulic Engineering, Hydraulic Laboratory, Pfaffenwaldring 61, University of Stuttgart, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

2 Institute of Biosciences, Aquatic Ecology, Albert-Einstein Street 3, University of Rostock, 18051 Rostock, Germany

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Environmental Sciences Europe 2011, 23:36  doi:10.1186/2190-4715-23-36

Published: 25 November 2011



The vertical migration of phytoplankton was investigated in natural waters using in situ fluorescence profiling, chlorophyll a concentrations and life counts at two study sites differing in coloured dissolved organic matter (cDOM) concentrations. The data from the corresponding water depths (50-cm intervals down to 10 m) and times (hourly, before dawn to sunset, several days) were related to the highly resolved (2 nm) underwater ultraviolet radiation (UVR)/photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) transparency (290 to 700 nm).


Chlorophyll a maxima of mainly motile dinoflagellates were observed in situ at all days and at both study sites (open marine, brackish waters), independent on prevailing weather conditions or cDOM concentrations. Phytoplankton migration was triggered solely by irradiance in the 400- to 700-nm wavelength range (PAR) at the particular water depth, irrespective of PAR/UVR ratios and surface UVR (290 to 400 nm), after an illumination period of about 40 min. Interestingly, the PAR tolerance levels of the phytoplankton, which have been lower in cDOM-rich waters, matched their light acclimation values determined by parallel PAM measurements.


The response of the phytoplankton to PAR is not a sufficient protection strategy versus increasing UVR levels, which might have wide ecological implications beyond the level of primary producers to impact important ecosystem functions such as the delicate trophic interactions.

phytoplankton; vertical migration; UV radiation; PAR; cDOM; underwater light spectrum.