Recovery of Thalassiosira weissflogii from nitrogen and silicon starvation

De La Rocha, Christina L., Uta Passow

Limnol. Oceanogr., 49(1), 2004, 245-255 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2004.49.1.0245

ABSTRACT: The ecological success of marine diatoms comes despite their unusual additional requirement for silicon, a nutrient that often limits their growth in the ocean. There may be, however, some physiological and ecological advantages to silicon limitation. A model of nitrogen and silicon metabolism in diatoms (Flynn et al. 1997; Flynn and Martin-Jézéquel 2000) suggests that silicon-starved diatoms will recover more quickly than nitrogen-starved (but otherwise identical) diatoms on the resupply of nutrients. In culture, following 24 h of stationary phase induced by nutrient exhaustion, silicon-starved Thalassiosira weissflogii displayed maximum growth rates within a few hours of the readdition of silicon. But 37 h elapsed before nitrate-starved cultures began dividing again and nitrate-starved cultures did not reattain maximum growth rates over the period investigated. The model suggests that, in terms of number, cells descended from the nitrate starved will never catch up to cells descended from the silicon starved if both populations are simultaneously supplied with a pulse of nutrients. The longer the lag between nutrient supply and the resumption of growth in the nitrate-starved cells, the greater the proportion of the supplied nutrients that ends up in the descendants of the silicon starved. In the model run, the silicon-starved cells acquired 75% of the added nutrients and the nitrate starved acquired only 25%. Silicon limitation may thus be a mechanism by which diatoms ensure they respond more quickly than other phytoplankton to the upwelling of nutrients into the euphotic zone.

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