Diel Periodicity of Photosynthesis in Polar Phytoplankton: Influence on Primary Production

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Science  27 Nov 1987:
Vol. 238, Issue 4831, pp. 1285-1288
DOI: 10.1126/science.238.4831.1285


In the Southern Ocean, primary production estimated from seasonal chemical and geochemical changes is two to four times greater than the value calculated from carbon-14 uptake. Since carbon uptake had typically been measured only during midday incubations, the influence of diel periodicity of photosynthesis on daily productions was not considered. Phytoplankton from McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, exhibited distinct, but seasonally variable diel patterns of light-saturated and light-limited photosynthesis. Maximum photosynthetic capacity occurred about noon in early September, and its occurrence progressively shifted to about midnight by late October. This shift was accompanied by a concomitant phase shift in the occurrence of minimum photosynthetic capacity from midnight to midday. Daily production estimated from time-of-day corrected photosynthetic characteristics and from 24-hour incubations was 2.5 to 4 times greater than that predicted from 6-hour midday incubations. If similar diel periodicity in photosynthesis occurs in other polar oceans, primary production would be significantly higher than previously estimated from carbon-14 uptake measurements.