Photosynthesis of Phytoplankton
The intensity of light decreases gradually with depth; yet for the purpose of biological investigations it is convenient to consider the sea as divided vertically into three zones with respect to the amount of light that is present. The depths given are approximations and vary with latitude and season.
The euphotic zone, which is abundantly supplied with light sufficient for the photosynthetic processes of plants. This zone extends from the surface to 80 or more meters. All of the eulittoral zone lies within this layer.
The disphotic zone, which is only dimly lighted and extends from about 80 to 200 or more meters. No effective plant production can take place in this zone, and the plants found here have mostly sunk from the layer above.
The aphotic zone, the lightless region below the disphotic zone. In the deep sea it is a very thick layer in which no plants are produced and the animal life consists only of carnivores and detritus feeders.
Until the relationship between rate of photosynthesis and light intensity at different wave lengths is more thoroughly understood than at present, it will be necessary to restrict discussion to the relationship between rate of photosynthesis and total light intensity in the sea as expressed in energy units or in units of illumination.
When using energy units the light intensity is expressed in ergs per unit surface and unit time, for example, ergs/cm2/sec; or in gram calories or joules per unit surface and unit time (1 g cal = 4.18 × 107 ergs, 1 joule = 107 ergs). The penetration of radiant energy in the sea was discussed in chapter IV (p. 104). It was stated there that no direct measurements are available of the energy which under different conditions reaches different depths below the surface, but that these amounts could be computed from observations of the extinction coefficients for radiation of different wave lengths and from the intensity of the radiation of stated wave lengths reaching the sea surface (table 27, figs. 21, 22). In all experiments in which the intensity of light has been examined in conjunction with studies of photosynthesis, the energy at different levels has
In a number of published reports on photosynthesis in the sea, light intensity is expressed in units of illumination, that is, in units based on the power of light to produce visual sensation. Illumination units such as 1 meter-candle = 1 lux = 0.093 foot-candle have been widely used, and it is therefore necessary to explain their relation to the energy units. Because the unit of illumination is directly based on the reaction of the human eye, a mechanical equivalent of the illumination unit can be established only at a specified wave length. At moderate illumination the maximum sensitivity of the human eye lies at a wave length of 0.56 μ, and at this wave length the “luminous equivalent” has been established (Smithsonian Tables, 1933) at
It is not possible to give any table by means of which the energy reaching a certain depth can be converted into units of illumination, because the conversion factors will depend upon the quality of the light. Thus, in turbid coastal water and in the clearest oceanic water the same amount of energy is found at the depths of 10 and 100 m, respectively (table 27), but at 10 m in the coastal water the maximum intensity lies
Table 92 has been prepared in order to show approximately corresponding values of energy and illumination at different depths and in different types of water. For the sake of simplicity the intensity of the radiation penetrating the surface has been selected at 100 g cal/cm2/hour, corresponding approximately to the radiation from sun and sky with the sun at zenith. The illumination at the surface is then about 120,000 luxes. The illumination decreases more slowly with depth than does the energy, but it is realized that the values in the table do not correspond exactly to each other. They give only the approximate relationship and can serve in obtaining a rough estimate of the energy if the illumination is stated, or vice versa.
|Depth (m)||Energy (gm cal/cm2/hour)||Illumination (luxes)|
|Oceanic water||Coastal water||Oceanic water||Coastal water|
The effect of light (somewhat modified by the effect of temperature) on photosynthesis can be illustrated by an experiment in which a series of suitable clear glass bottles are filled with sea water containing a substantial phytoplankton population and are submerged in the day time at various depths in the euphotic zone. It will be found that at a few meters below the surface the oxygen content of the water will increase as a result of the photosynthetic activities of the plants within the bottles.
|Depth range (m)||Temperature (°C)||Condition of bottles||Oxygen after exposure (ml/L)||Change in oxygen (ml/L)||Oxygen produced (ml/L)|
When the temperature decreases with increasing depth, the rate of respiration decreases. As long as the light intensity is so high that it does not limit the rate of photosynthesis, this rate also falls somewhat with falling temperature, but at low light intensities the effect of temperature
The photosynthesis depends on the light intensity, and the light intensity at which oxygen production and oxygen utilization are equal is therefore called the compensation point, or the compensation light intensity. The illumination at this point is “the minimum intensity at which the plant could survive in nature and [is] still too low for any crop increase” (Jenkin, 1937). The more pronounced effect of lowered temperature on the rate of respiration as compared with the effect on the rate of photosynthesis leads to a slight lowering of the compensation point with decreasing temperature, at least in certain higher algae (Spoehr, 1926).
It is obvious that the compensation point is determined by physiological characteristics of the plants and may, therefore, be somewhat different for different species, just as the optimum light intensity is not the same for all species. The compensation point is independent of the time during which photosynthesis and respiration have been measured if the oxygen production per unit time remains proportional to the light intensity and the oxygen consumption per unit time remains constant. On these assumptions, the oxygen production dP in the short time interval dt equals aIdt, where a is a constant and I is the light intensity, and the oxygen consumption dR equals bdt where b is another constant. The compensation point, Ic, is defined by
The two factors a and b which have been introduced here are in general not determined, but measurements of the difference between production and consumption are made at different light intensities and the compensation point is found by interpolation. Since the compensation point depends upon the ratio b/a, it follows that it depends on temperature if photosynthesis and respiration are influenced differently by the temperature.
The depth at which the compensation point is found is called the compensation depth. This depth evidently varies with the season of the year, the time of day, the cloudiness, and the character of the water. In the experiment quoted in table 93, the compensation depth lies between 27 m and 44 m. For a given locality one can introduce such terms as daily compensation depth with a clear sky, daily compensation depth with an overcast sky, average annual compensation depth, and so on. With a clear sky the compensation depth will in a given locality reach its maximum value at noon and will rise to the surface shortly before sunset. The average daily compensation depth is less than the compensation depth at noon, except at the North Pole.
The diatoms and many other algae thrive best in somewhat subdued light, but the optimum light intensity is not the same for all species. For example, Schreiber (1927) found the optimum for the diatom Biddulphia mobiliensis to be 1600 luxes, and for the green flagellate Carteria sp. over 3200 luxes. Some diatoms are able to grow in much reduced light. This has been shown in nature by Vanhoeffen for arctic species found growing under the ice in March. From Schreiber's results with Biddulphia we learn that high illumination does not necessarily increase the rate of photosynthesis, since the rate of multiplication was proportional to light intensity only at the intermediate illuminations 200 to 400 luxes. That this is quite generally true is indicated by the habit exhibited by many diatoms of grouping the otherwise scattered chromatophores into knots when exposed to strong light. In this way they afford mutual protection during such periods of unusual exposure as might occur when being swept by ascending currents to the very surface on bright days. This condition whereby the chromatophores are concentrated or collected into a group is known as a systrophe, and was described by Schimper (Karsten, 1905). For the diatom Coscinodiscus excentricus this has been found to occur at a light intensity of about 9.6 g cal/cm2/hour, p. 781. That diatom photosynthesis falls off
Assimilation experiments with raw plankton samples can be carried on only if the diatom population is sufficiently dense that the metabolic activities provide differences in oxygen content and pH values above the limits of experimental error of the method. Experiments with persistent cultures have the advantage that they make possible field-assimilation experiments even at seasons when in nature the phytoplankton is at a minimum. The absence of small planktonic animals and the possible control of bacterial populations in such cultures eliminates a source of error in computing oxygen utilization. On the other hand, the diatoms in persistent cultures may represent selective species with slightly different light optima and may therefore not be typical of the mixed population of raw cultures.
The considerable variation found for the depth of compensation of oxygen production and utilization by phytoplankton results from variations in latitude, season, weather, and turbidity, all of which influence the depth of submarine illumination. Theoretically, it should be possible to determine the depth of optimum diatom production for a given area during the growing season by a study of the vertical distribution of
Not only is the quantity of light a factor to be considered, but so also is the quality. It is well known that as sunlight enters the sea the intensity is reduced, but there is moreover a differential absorption, certain light rays being absorbed before others. The red component of light is removed in the first few meters of water, while the blue light penetrates to much greater depths (p. 106). Therefore, diatoms in nature have their greatest growth at depths where the red component is much reduced; rich growths are found at depths (15 to 20 m) where only blue and green light prevail. A realization of this has led to experiments on the effect of light intensities selectively reduced.
In experimental cultures, using Nitzschia closterium, a diatom much used in culture experiments, Stanbury (1931) concluded that the precise wave length is not so important as the amount of energy transmitted.
Assuming that the total energy in all wave lengths within the visible spectrum provides the best measure of available energy for photosynthesis of diatoms, Jenkin (1937), working in the English Channel, computed the available energy in joules or gram calories at various depths and correlated these values with the amount of oxygen produced by Coscinodiscus excentricus in submerged experimental bottles at the various depths tested. The results indicate that with an energy flux less than 7.5 joules, or 1.8 g cal/cm2/hour, the oxygen production is directly proportional to the energy and the utilization of the available energy is about 7 per cent. With an energy flux greater than the above, the photosynthesis is gradually inhibited. Systrophe takes place at an
In certain sessile shallow-water diatoms adapted to a depth of only a few centimeters the maximum oxygen production occurs at higher energy values, that is, 60 g cal/cm2/hour or 80,000 luxes (Curtis and Juday, 1937).
Diatoms tend to show chromatic adaptation when grown under different components of light, assuming colors that are complementary to those under which they are grown. They thus tend to become yellow-green when grown in red and yellow light, and dark brown in green and blue light. For benthic green algae the red component of light is essential to healthy growth, while brown algae and, especially, red algae characteristic of deep water are adapted to carry on photosynthesis with the red component absent or reduced. We have seen also (p. 295) that, in keeping with this, the order of vertical distribution of the benthic marine algae is greens, browns, and reds, from shallow to deeper water. The quantity of chlorophyll present in these classes of algae is also diminished in the same order (Lubimenko and Tikhouskaia, 1928). The depth at which these benthic algae can grow is also directly correlated with the depth of submarine illumination. In northern latitudes the maximum depth is about 40 to 50 m, whereas in the clear waters of the Mediterranean it is said to be over 100 m. It has been suggested (Klugh, 1930) that certain pigments present in plants growing some distance below the surface may act as photosensitizers to the chlorophyll, enabling it to function with less light intensity.