Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are essential macromolecules that are synthesized by phytoplankton during spring bloom, and they play a key role in the Arctic food web. They are, however, considered to be sensitive to oxidation by UV radiation (280–400 nm). Changes in the food quality of primary producers may affect the transport of biomass and energy in the whole ecosystem. Using a common Arctic diatom, we looked at the effect of ambient and increased UV radiation on its nutritional quality, specifically, the fatty acid composition and elemental ratios.
In May 2004, in the archipelago of Svalbard (79° N), a unialgal culture of Thalassiosira antarctica var. borealis was subjected to a 17-day experiment in outdoor aquaria. The diatoms were kept in semi-continuous culture (40 1) and exposed to three treatments with different levels of UV radiation: none (UV-shielded), ambient, and enhanced. Fatty acid composition, C:N:P ratios, photosynthetic pigment composition, optimum quantum yield of PSII, and cell numbers were analysed over the experimental period.
An initial increase in PAR (photosynthetically active radiation, 400–700 nm) intensities profoundly affected the fatty acid composition and substantially inhibited the synthesis of PUFAs, but the relative amounts of PUFAs were not reduced by UV radiation. Enhanced UV radiation did, however, cause a significant reduction in optimum quantum yield of PSII and affected some fatty acids, mainly 18:0 and 16:1 n-7, during the first week of the experiment. Both ambient and enhanced UV radiation caused significantly lower C:P and N:P ratios. At the same time, these treatments elicited a higher relative content of the photoprotective pigments diadinoxanthin and diatoxanthin.
After acclimation to the new light levels these effects faded off. Thus, brief periods with high light exposure may cause significant changes in photosynthetic activity and food quality, but the capacity for photo-acclimation seems high. The impact of UV radiation seems to be less important for food quality than that of PAR during a sudden rise in total light intensity.
Leu, E., Wängberg, S.Å., Wulff, A., Falk-Petersen, S., Ørbæk, J.B. and Hessen, D.O., 2006. Effects of changes in ambient PAR and UV radiation on the nutritional quality of an Arctic diatom (Thalassiosira antarctica var. borealis). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 337(1), pp.65-81.
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