Low diversity of a key phytoplankton group along the West Antarctic Peninsula

Michael S. Brown, Jeff S. Bowman, Yajuan Lin, Colette J. Feehan, Carly M. Moreno, Nicolas Cassar, Adrian Marchetti, Oscar M. Schofield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The West Antarctic Peninsula (henceforth “Peninsula”) is experiencing rapid warming and melting that is impacting the regional marine food web. The primary phytoplankton groups along the Peninsula are diatoms and cryptophytes. Relative to diatoms, there has been little focus on regional cryptophytes, and thus our understanding of their diversity and ecology is limited, especially at the species level. This gap is important, as diatoms and cryptophytes play distinct roles in the regional marine food web and biogeochemistry. Here, we use a phylogenetic placement approach with 18S rRNA gene amplicon sequence variants to assess surface ocean cryptophyte diversity and its drivers at a high taxonomic resolution along the Peninsula. Data were collected over 5 years (2012–2016) during the regional research cruises of the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research program. Our results indicate that there are two major cryptophyte taxa along the Peninsula, consisting of distinct Geminigera spp., which in aggregate always comprise nearly 100% of the cryptophyte community (indicating low taxa evenness). The primary taxon dominates the cryptophyte community across all samples/years, which span a broad range of oceanographic conditions. A shift in cryptophyte community composition between a lower (higher) primary (secondary) taxon percentage is associated with distinct oceanographic conditions, including lower (higher) temperature, salinity, nutrients, and cryptophyte relative abundance (phytoplankton biomass and diatom relative abundance). These results emphasize the need for a full characterization of the ecology of these two taxa, as it is predicted that cryptophytes will increase along the Peninsula given projections of continued regional environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2470-2480
Number of pages11
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


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