Performance of sinking and nonsinking phytoplankton taxa in a gradient of mixing depths

Ptacnik, Robert, Sebastian Diehl, Stella Berger

Limnol. Oceanogr., 48(5), 2003, 1903-1912 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2003.48.5.1903

ABSTRACT: According to a recent dynamical model, the depth of a well-mixed water column should have contrasting effects on the abundances of sinking and nonsinking phytoplankton taxa. Because of increasing light limitation, nonsinking taxa should decline monotonically with increasing mixing depth, and because of sinking loss limitation at low mixing depths, sinking taxa should peak at intermediate mixing depths. Along a gradient of mixing depths, the position of this maximum should increase with increasing taxon-specific sinking velocity and decrease with increasing background turbidity. In two field-enclosure experiments, we investigated the effects of mixing depth and background turbidity on a variety of sinking and nonsinking phytoplankton taxa. We exposed the natural, 100-µm screened phytoplankton community of a clear, unproductive, but silica-rich lake to a gradient of mixing depths (1.5- 15 m) during 4-6 weeks. To mimic two different background turbidities, the transparent enclosure walls were surrounded by either white or black foliage. Although diatoms suffered from high sedimentation losses at low mixing depths, they dominated biomass at all mixing depths throughout both experiments. Results were largely in accordance with model predictions. Specific gross growth rates of most common taxa were negatively related to mixing depth. In both experiments, the abundances of most sinking taxa showed a unimodal pattern along the mixing depth gradient, while two of three motile taxa declined monotonically with mixing depth. The depths where these taxa reached their maximal abundances were positively related to taxon-specific sinking velocity and negatively related to background turbidity.

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