The structure and function of microphytobenthic biofilms
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Microphytobenthos are the dominant primary producers on estuarine mudflats playing a key role in the functioning of the ecosystem. Studies into microphytobenthic ecology have previously been limited by scale but the advent of fine scale analysis techniques (gm) as well as non-destructive sampling has enabled the system to be examined at a level not previously possible. This study examined the formation, structure and function of microphytobenthic biofilms using non-destructive (remote sensing by PAM fluorescence; fibreoptic light microprofiling) and destructive (cryo-freezing and Low temperature scanning electron microscopy) sampling. Many microphytobenthic organisms are motile and have evolved complex migratory strategies. Microphytobenthic migratory patterns are widely described but much remains to be elucidated about the controlling factors. The fluorescence parameter F015 (minimum fluorescence yield after 15 minutes dark adaptation) was used to monitor short-term changes in biomass at the sediment surface. Light, tidal state, endogeny and combinations thereof were all shown to control migration, demonstrating that predictable migratory rhythms cannot be assumed. Microscale sectioning showed that chlorophyll a was always concentrated in the top 400 gm (the photosynthetically active biomass). Clear migratory patterns were not detected using microscale sectioning therefore indicating that migration occurs over a scale < 400gm. Despite no changes in the chlorophyll a content in the surface layers, LTSEM analysis demonstrated diurnal taxonomic shifts providing circumstantial evidence that microphytobenthic cells sub-cycle at the sediment surface to optimise fitness. The light extinction co-efficient (k) of microphytobenthic biofilms significantly vaned with site, assemblage and also over time. 90% of the surface PPFD had always been attenuated by 400, and in many cases before 200. Traditional microphytobenthic primary productivity models do not account for changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of biomass or light attenuation and therefore their applicability to the real situation may be limited.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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