The relation of mixed-layer net community production to phytoplankton community composition in the Southern Ocean

N. Cassar, S.W. Wright, Paul Thomson, T.W. Trull, K.J. Westwood, M. De Salas, I. Pearce, D.M. Davies, R.J. Matear, A. Davidson

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28 Citations (Scopus)


©2015. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Surface ocean productivity mediates the transfer of carbon to the deep ocean and in the process regulates atmospheric CO2 levels. A common axiom in oceanography is that large phytoplankton contribute disproportionally to the transfer of carbon to the deep ocean because of their greater ability to escape grazing pressure, build biomass, and sink. In the present study, we assessed the relationship of net community production to phytoplankton assemblages and plankton size distribution in the Sub-Antarctic Zone and northern reaches of the Polar Frontal Zone in the Australian sector of the Southern Ocean. We reanalyzed and synthesized previously published estimates of O2/Ar net community oxygen production (NCP) and triple-O2 isotopes gross primary oxygen production (GPP) along with microscopic and pigment analyses of the microbial community. Overall, we found that the axiom that large phytoplankton drive carbon export was not supported in this region. Mixed-layer-depth-integrated NCP was correlated to particulate organic carbon (POC) concentration in the mixed layer. While lower NCP/GPP and NCP/POC values were generally associated with communities dominated by smaller plankton size (as would be expected), these communities did not preclude high values for both properties. Vigorous NCP in some regions occurred in the virtual absence of large phytoplankton (and specifically diatoms) and in communities dominated by nanoplankton and picoplankton. We also observed a positive correlation between NCP and the proportion of the phytoplankton community grazed by microheterotrophs, supporting the mediating role of grazers in carbon export. The novel combination of techniques allowed us to determine how NCP relates to upper ocean ecosystem characteristics and may lead to improved models of carbon export.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-462
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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