Living on Cold Substrata: New Insights and Approaches in the Study of Microphytobenthos Ecophysiology and Ecology in Kongsfjorden

Martin.Graeve [ at ]


Organisms in shallow waters at high latitudes are under pressure due to climate change. These areas are typically inhabited by microphytobenthos (MPB) communities, composed mainly of diatoms. Only sparse information is available on the ecophysiology and acclimation processes within MPBs from Arctic regions. The physico-chemical environment and the ecology and ecophysiology of benthic diatoms in Kongsfjorden (Svalbard, Norway) are addressed in this review. MPB biofilms cover extensive areas of sediment. They show high rates of primary production, stabilise sediment surfaces against erosion under hydrodynamic forces,and affect the exchange of oxygen and nutrients across the sediment-water interface. Additionally, this phototrophic community represents a key component in the functioning of the Kongsfjorden trophic web, particularly as a major food source for benthic suspension- or deposit-feeders. MPB in Kongsfjorden is confronted with pronounced seasonal variations in solar radiation, low temperatures, and hyposaline (meltwater) conditions in summer, as well as long periods of ice and snow cover in winter. From the few data available, it seems that these organisms can easily cope with these environmental extremes. The underlying physiological mechanisms that allow growth and photosynthesis to continue under widely varying abiotic parameters, along with vertical migration and heterotrophy, and biochemical features such as a pronounced fatty-acid metabolism and silicate incorporation are discussed. Existing gaps in our knowledge of benthic diatoms in Kongsfjorden, such as the chemical ecology of biotic interactions, need to be filled. In addition, since many of the underlying molecular acclimation mechanisms are poorly understood, modern approaches based on transcriptomics, proteomics, and/or metabolomics, in conjunction with cell biological and biochemical techniques, are urgently needed. Climate change models for the Arctic predict other multifactorial stressors, such as an increase in precipitation and permafrost thawing, with consequences for the shallow-water regions. Both precipitation and permafrost thawing are likely to increase nutrient-enriched, turbid freshwater runoff and may locally counteract the expected increase in coastal radiation availability. So far, complex interactions among factors, as well as the full genetic diversity and physiological plasticity of Arctic benthic diatoms, have only rarely been considered. The limited existing information is described and discussed in this review.

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DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-46425-1_8

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Karsten, U. , Schaub, I. , Woelfel, J. , Sevilgen, D. S. , Schlie, C. , Becker, B. , Wulff, A. , Graeve, M. and Wagner, H. (2019): Living on Cold Substrata: New Insights and Approaches in the Study of Microphytobenthos Ecophysiology and Ecology in Kongsfjorden / H. Hop and C. Wiencke (editors) , In: Advances in Polar Ecology 2, The Ecosystem of Kongsfjorden, Svalbard, Switzerland, Springer Nature . doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-46425-1_8

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