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      Phytoplankton can actively diversify their migration strategy in response to turbulent cues

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      Springer Nature

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          Abstract

          Marine phytoplankton inhabit a dynamic environment where turbulence, together with nutrient and light availability, shapes species fitness, succession and selection. Many species of phytoplankton are motile and undertake diel vertical migrations to gain access to nutrient-rich deeper layers at night and well-lit surface waters during the day. Disruption of this migratory strategy by turbulence is considered to be an important cause of the succession between motile and non-motile species when conditions turn turbulent. However, this classical view neglects the possibility that motile species may actively respond to turbulent cues to avoid layers of strong turbulence. Here we report that phytoplankton, including raphidophytes and dinoflagellates, can actively diversify their migratory strategy in response to hydrodynamic cues characteristic of overturning by Kolmogorov-scale eddies. Upon experiencing repeated overturning with timescales and statistics representative of ocean turbulence, an upward-swimming population rapidly (5–60 min) splits into two subpopulations, one swimming upward and one swimming downward. Quantitative morphological analysis of the harmful-algal-bloom-forming raphidophyte Heterosigma akashiwo together with a model of cell mechanics revealed that this behaviour was accompanied by a modulation of the cells’ fore–aft asymmetry. The minute magnitude of the required modulation, sufficient to invert the preferential swimming direction of the cells, highlights the advanced level of control that phytoplankton can exert on their migratory behaviour. Together with observations of enhanced cellular stress after overturning and the typically deleterious effects of strong turbulence on motile phytoplankton, these results point to an active adaptation of H. akashiwo to increase the chance of evading turbulent layers by diversifying the direction of migration within the population, in a manner suggestive of evolutionary bet-hedging. This migratory behaviour relaxes the boundaries between the fluid dynamic niches of motile and non-motile phytoplankton, and highlights that rapid responses to hydrodynamic cues are important survival strategies for phytoplankton in the ocean.

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          Most cited references32

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          On Conditions for the Vernal Blooming of Phytoplankton

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            Trait-Based Community Ecology of Phytoplankton

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              A functional perspective on phenotypic heterogeneity in microorganisms.

              Most microbial communities consist of a genetically diverse assembly of different organisms, and the level of genetic diversity plays an important part in community properties and functions. However, biological diversity also arises at a lower level of biological organization, between genetically identical cells that reside in the same microenvironment. In this Review, I outline the molecular mechanisms responsible for phenotypic heterogeneity and discuss how phenotypic heterogeneity allows genotypes to persist in fluctuating environments. I also describe how it promotes interactions between phenotypic subpopulations in clonal groups, providing microbial groups with new functionality.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Nature
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                March 15 2017
                March 15 2017
                :
                :
                Article
                10.1038/nature21415
                03af2e30-c109-4c86-b8e9-c69af327c7c1
                © 2017
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