Laser Scattering as a Tool to Determine the Effect of Temperature on Diatom Aggregation



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Diatoms are estimated to contribute 25 percent of the primary production on Earth and therefore they play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. Diatom blooms often terminate with the formation of aggregates that sink rapidly from surface waters, affecting the flux of organic carbon from the surface to deep waters and the sea floor. The role of carbon-rich transparent exopolymeric particles (TEP) in aggregate formation as ocean temperature increases has yet to investigated in continuous cultures. I hypothesize that temperature increase can influence the production of TEP, a fraction of total suspended exopolymers. To test the hypothesis, a laser in situ scattering and transmissometry instrument (LISST-100X, Sequoia Instruments) successfully counted and sized six individual diatom species in batch culture: Chaetoceros muelleri, Coscinodiscus wailesii, Thalassiosira weissflogii, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Skeletonema costatum, and Skeletonema marinoi and successfully demonstrated its efficacy in detecting diatom aggregates using S. costatum. Four replicate continuous cultures were sampled for particle size distribution (PSD), nutrients, chlorophyll a, total carbohydrates, prokaryote concentration, and TEP at temperatures of 22.5, 27 and then 20 degrees C. While TEP particles were scarce, acid polysaccharide (APS)-coated C. muelleri cells were observed, forming dense webs on the filters. Both carbohydrate per cell and APS area per cell were found to significantly correlate with temperature (p<0.05) while significant difference between APS concentration at each temperature was only found between 27 and 22.5 or 20 degrees C (p<0.05). Net changes in PSDs with increasing temperature showed that distributions of relative volume concentration decreased in the smallest size bins and increased in the largest size bins. Our results show that increasing the temperatures of nitrogen-limited C. muelleri cultures did not cause increased TEP formation but instead resulted in increased cell-surface coating. Increasing concentration of cell coatings and TEP particles will cause diatoms to aggregate more readily, enhancing their sinking rate away from the ocean surface. Increased ocean temperature has great implications for diatom blooms and other microorganisms, causing greater export of carbon out of the surface waters and potentially altering the microbial loop.