Friday, April 27, 2007

The paradox of the plankton

The paradox

In 1961, Hutchinson posed his classic question: "How is it possible for a number of species to coexist in a relatively isotrophic or unstructured environment, all competing for the same sorts of materials?"

Hutchinson gave the particular example of the phytoplankton, from which the paradox is named. Most species of phytoplankton are autotrophic, requiring light, CO2 and about 17 mineral elements, not all of which will be limiting in any particular waters. Yet considerably more species than implied by this can coexist, although in a continued state of increase and decreasing populations in self organization away from equilibrium in response to environmental and competitive changes ranging from seconds to centuries.

Overall not surprising open heterogeneous adsorbent (absorbent) – absorbent systems, approaching supramolecular equilibrium, on the whole, move away from chemical equilibrium with the environment.

Changes to absorption and emission of nutrients are also responsive to changes in both the type and spectra of radiation, these inhibit some populations and enhance others.

Hader in Advances in Space research 2000; 26(12):2029-40. provides some interesting examples in attenuation and amplification of nutrients and GHG absorption and emission.

Solar UV degrades dissolved organic carbon photolytically so that they can readily be taken up by bacterioplankton. On the other hand solar UV radiation inhibits bacterioplankton activity. Bacterioplankton productivity is far greater than previously thought and is comparable to phytoplankton primary productivity. According to the "microbial loop hypothesis," bacterioplankton is seen in the center of a food web, having a similar function to phytoplankton and protists. The penetration of UV and PAR into the water column can be measured. Marine waters show large temporal and regional differences in their concentrations of dissolved and particulate absorbing substances. A network of dosimeters (ELDONET) has been installed in Europe ranging from Abisko in Northern Sweden to Gran Canaria. Cyanobacteria are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen which is then made available to higher plants. The agricultural potential of cyanobacteria has been recognized as a biological fertilizer for wet soils such as in rice paddies. UV-B is known to impair processes such as growth, survival, pigmentation, motility, as well as the enzymes of nitrogen metabolism and CO2 fixation. The marine phytoplankton represents the single most important ecosystem on our planet and produces about the same biomass as all terrestrial ecosystems taken together. It is the base of the aquatic food chain and any changes in the size and composition of phytoplankton communities will directly affect food production for humans from marine sources. Another important role of marine phytoplankton is to serve as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Recent investigations have shown a large sensitivity of most phytoplankton organisms toward solar short-wavelength ultraviolet radiation (UV-B); even at ambient levels of UV-B radiation many organisms seem to be under UV stress. Because of their requirement for solar energy, the phytoplankton dwell in the top layers of the water column. In this near-surface position phytoplankton will be exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation. This radiation has been shown to affect growth,photosynthesis, nitrogen incorporation and enzyme activity. Other targets of solar UV irradiation are proteins and pigments involved in photosynthesis. Whether or not screening pigments can be induced in phytoplankton to effectively shield the organisms from excessive UV irradiation needs to be determined. Macroalgae show a distinct pattern of vertical distribution in their habitat. They have developed mechanisms to regulate their photosynthetic activity to adapt to the changing light regime and protect themselves from excessive radiation. A broad survey was carried out to understand photosynthesis in aquatic ecosystems and the different adaptation strategies to solar radiation of ecologically important species of green, red and brown algae from the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean, Atlantic, polar and tropical oceans. Photoinhibition was quantified by oxygen exchange and by PAM (pulse amplitude modulated) fluorescence measurements based on transient changes of chlorophyll fluorescence.

Another is Zepp et al PPC 2003 Jan;2(1):51-61.

Interactive effects of ozone depletion and climate change on biogeochemical cycles.

The effects of ozone depiction on global biogeochemical cycles, via increased UV-B radiation at the Earth's surface, have continued to be documented over the past 4 years. In this report we also document various effects of UV-B that interact with global climate change because the detailed interactions between ozone depletion and climate change are central to the prediction and evaluation of future Earth environmental conditions. There is increasing evidence that elevated UV-B has significant effects on the terrestrial biosphere with important implications for the cycling of carbon, nitrogen and other elements. Increased UV has been shown to induce carbon monoxide production from dead plant matter in terrestrial ecosystems, nitrogen oxide production from Arctic and Antarctic snowpacks, and halogenated substances from several terrestrial ecosystems.

New studies on UV effects on the decomposition of dead leaf material confirm that these effects are complex and species-specific. Decomposition can be retarded, accelerated or remain unchanged. It has been difficult to relate effects of UV on decomposition rates to leaf litter chemistry, as this is very variable. However, new evidence shows UV effects on some fungi, bacterial communities and soil fauna that could play roles in decomposition and nutrient cycling. An important new result is that not only is nitrogen cycling in soils perturbed significantly by increased UV-B, but that these effects persist for over a decade. As nitrogen cycling is temperature dependent, this finding clearly links the impacts of ozone depletion to the ability of plants to use nitrogen in a warming global environment. There are many other potential interactions between UV and climate change impacts on terrestrial biogeochemical cycles that remain to be quantified. There is also new evidence that UV-B strongly influences aquatic carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and metals cycling that affect a wide range of life processes. UV-B accelerates the decomposition of colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) entering the sea via terrestrial runoff, thus having important effects on oceanic carbon cycle dynamics. Since UV-B influences the distribution of CDOM, there is an impact of UV-B on estimates of oceanic productivity based on remote sensing of ocean color. Thus, oceanic productivity estimates based on remote sensing require estimates of CDOM distributions. Recent research shows that UV-B transforms dissolved organic matter to dissolved inorganic carbon and nitrogen, including carbon dioxide and ammonium and to organic substances that are either more or less readily available to micro-organisms. The extent of these transformations is correlated with loss of UV absorbance by the organic matter. Changes in aquatic primary productivity and decomposition due to climate-related changes in circulation and nutrient supply, which occur concurrently with increased UV-B exposure, have synergistic influences on the penetration of light into aquatic ecosystems. New research has confirmed that UV affects the biological availability of iron, copper and other trace metals in aquatic environments thus potentially affecting the growth of phytoplankton and other microorganisms that are involved in carbon and nitrogen cycling. There are several instances where UV-B modifies the air sea exchange of trace gases that in turn alter atmospheric chemistry, including the carbon cycle.

This is a reason to not look at systems in isolation,but an understanding of the interaction of all dynamics of the system to be able to describe the mechanisms,its functions,and effects .


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