Environmental and biological factors controlling the spring phytoplankton bloom at the Patagonian shelf-break front – Degraded fucoxanthin pigments and the importance of microzooplankton grazing

Published in Progress in Oceanography, v. 146:1-21 

Carreto, J.I., Montoya, N.G., Carignan, M.O., Akselman, R., Acha, E.M. and Derisio, C.

Publication year 2016
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2016.05.002


  • Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Pesquero (INIDEP), V. Ocampo 1, B7602HSA Mar del Plata, Argentina
  • Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Argentina
  • Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (IIMyC), Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina


IAI Program


IAI Project CRN3070


The aim of this study was to investigate the biotic and abiotic factors controlling the spring phytoplankton blooms at the Patagonian shelf-break front (PSBF). Using a CHEMTAX analysis of HPLC pigment data and other methods, the biomass and spatial variability of plankton communities were studied in four sections (39-48°S) across the PSBF during October 2005. Environmental factors and the biomass and composition of plankton communities exhibited a marked spatial heterogeneity. The latitudinal and cross-shelf progression in the timing of the spring bloom initiation and the nutritive properties of the water masses (Subantarctic Shelf Waters and Malvinas Current Waters) seemed to be the key factors. Three plankton regions were distinguished: (a) Outer shelf (OS), (b) Shelf-break front (SBF) and (c) Malvinas Current (MC). At the highly stratified OS region, the post-bloom community showed low-biomasshigh-phytoplankton diversity formed mainly by small cells (haptophytes 30-62%, diatoms 17-49%, chlorophytes 0-34%, and prasinophytes 0-21% of total Chl a). High amounts of degraded fucoxanthin were found associated with the heterotrophic dinoflagellate, Protoperidinium capurroi. Grazing by this microheterotroph on the diatom population seemed to be the most important factor for the spring bloom decay at the OS. A remarkable quasi monospecific bloom (~90%) of a nanodiatom (Thalassiosira bioculata var. raripora) associated with high Chl a (up to 20 mg m-3) occurred along (~1000 km) the SBF and in the most northern extension of the MC. In the southern region, the bloom was developed under absent or incipient density stratification, increasing solar irradiance, high nitrate and phosphate availability, and low numbers of phytoplankton grazers. The average mixedlayer PAR irradiance (<2.0 mol quanta PAR m-2 d-1) and Si:N ratios (<0.2) were low, suggesting a diatom population limited by light and under progressive silicate limitation. The more stratified northern region of the SBF showed a later stage of the bloom development, but the large population of diatoms under Si limitation was not in senescence and losses from microzooplankton grazing were minor. The observed high proportion of Chl a below a shallow upper mixed layer (up to 85%) could directly reach the bed, favoring the development of epibenthic communities and the formation of seed diatom banks and organic iron-rich sediments. The upwelling along the SBF provides a large source of macronutrients and probably the dissolved iron needed to sustain the intense diatom bloom, but also diatom resting stages that could act as seeds for the next spring bloom. The macronutrient-rich MC region showed low chlorophyll (Chl a < 0.8 mg m-3) and a highly diverse phytoplankton community, mainly composed of small cells (diatoms 20-70%, haptophytes 20-40%, chlorophytes 2-25%, prasinophytes 2&ndash18%, and cryptophytes 3-12% of total Chl a).