Environmental and Ecological Regulation of Differences and Interactions between Solitary and Colonial forms of Phaeocystis antarctica
Phaeocystis Antarctica is a widely distributed phytoplankton that forms dense blooms and aggregates in the Southern Ocean. This phytoplankton and plays important roles in polar ecology and biogeochemistry, in part because it is a dominant primary producer, a main component of organic matter vertical fluxes, and the principal producer of volatile organic sulfur in the region. Yet P. Antarctica is also one of the lesser known species in terms of its physiology, life history and trophic relationships with other organisms; furthermore, information collected on other Phaeocystis species and from different locations may not be applicable to P. Antarctica in the Ross Sea. P. Antarctica occurs mainly as two morphotypes: solitary cells and mucilaginous colonies, which differ significantly in size, architecture and chemical composition. Relative dominance between solitary cells and colonies determines not only the size spectrum of the population, but also its carbon dynamics, nutrient uptake and utilization. Conventional thinking of the planktonic trophic processes is also challenged by the fact that colony formation could effectively alter the predator-prey interactions and interspecific competition. However, the factors that regulate the differences between solitary and colonial forms of P. Antarctica are not well-understood. The research objective of this proposal is therefore to address these over-arching questions:
o Do P. Antarctica solitary cells and colonies differ in growth, composition and
o How do nutrients and grazers affect colony development and size distribution of P.
o How do nutrients and grazers act synergistically to affect the long-term population
dynamics of P. Antarctica? Experiments will be conducted in the McMurdo station with natural P. Antarctica assemblages and co-occurring grazers. Laboratory experiments will be conducted to study size-specific growth and photosynthetic rates of P. Antarctica, size-specific grazing mortality due to microzooplankton and mesozooplankton, the effects of macronutrients on the (nitrogen compounds) relative dominance of solitary cells and colonies, and the effects of micronutrient (Fe) and grazing related chemical signals on P. Antarctica colony development. Because this species is of critical importance in the Southern Ocean, and because this research will provide critical information on factors that regulate the role of P.Antarctica in food webs and biogeochemical cycles, a major gap in knowledge will be addressed. This project will train two marine science PhD students. The investigators will also collaborate with the School of Education and a marine science museum to communicate polar science to a broader audience.
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