Inorganic carbon availability in benthic diatom communities: photosynthesis and migration

Diatom-dominated microphytobenthos (MPB) is the main primary producer of many intertidal and shallow subtidal environments, being therefore of critical importance to estuarine and coastal food webs. Owing to tidal cycles, intertidal MPB diatoms are subjected to environmental conditions far more variable than the ones experienced by pelagic diatoms (e.g. light, temperature, salinity, desiccation and nutrient availability). Nevertheless, benthic diatoms evolved adaptation mechanisms to these harsh conditions, including the capacity to move within steep physical and chemical gradients, allowing them to perform photosynthesis efficiently. In this contribution, we will review present knowledge on the effects of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) availability on photosynthesis and productivity of diatom-dominated MPB. We present evidence of carbon limitation of photosynthesis in benthic diatom mats and highly productive MPB natural communities. Furthermore, we hypothesize that active vertical migration of epipelic motile diatoms could overcome local depletion of DIC in the photic layer, providing the cells alternately with light and inorganic carbon supply. The few available longer-term experiments on the effects of inorganic carbon enrichment on the productivity of diatom-dominated MPB have yielded inconsistent results. Therefore, further studies are needed to properly assess the response of MPB communities to increased CO2 and ocean acidification related to climate change.

Marques da Silva J., Cruz S. & Cartaxana P., 2017. Inorganic carbon availability in benthic diatom communities: photosynthesis and migration. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 372: 1728. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0398. Article (subscription required).

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