Mapping Phytoplankton Community Physiology on a River Impacted Continental Shelf: Testing a Multifaceted Approach Academic Article uri icon


  • Seasonal phosphorus limitation occurs on the Louisiana continental shelf as a result of high nitrogen loads in the spring and early summer. Prior studies have assessed such nutrient limitation by laborious and time-consuming nutrient analyses, enzyme assays, and nutrient addition bioassays. We undertook surface (0.5-1 m) mapping of fast repetition rate fluorescence (FRRF) parameters to assess nutrient limitation in real time on the Louisiana continental shelf and Mississippi River plume from 29 June to 08 July, 2002 in an effort to further understand phytoplankton productivity in this region, as well as to better inform effective nutrient management strategies. Surface nutrient concentrations (NO3-, NO2-, NH4+, PO43-), chlorophyll a biomass, alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity, and four FRRF parameters: the maximum quantum yield of photochemistry (Fv/Fm), the functional absorption cross section for PSII, the time constant for QA reoxidation, and the connectivity factor, were measured during continuous underway mapping. Results from traditional methods to assess phytoplankton nutrient stress indicated widespread phosphorus limitation from the Mississippi River plume to the Atchafalaya River, manifested as high inorganic N/P ratios and elevated AP activities associated with phytoplankton biomass. The FRRF data indicated complex patterns of phytoplankton physiology that were likely driven by the rapidly changing conditions in local surface waters and heterogeneous phytoplankton community structure. Correlations of nutrient data and enzyme assays with FRRF parameters were significant but low, potentially due to differences in the manner and time scale with which nutrient limitation affects the different techniques used, indicating that further work is needed to interpret FRRF parameters in large, heterogeneous environments such as estuaries and continental shelves. 2011 Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Sylvan, J. B., Quigg, A., Tozzi, S., & Ammerman, J. W.

citation count

  • 13

complete list of authors

  • Sylvan, Jason B||Quigg, Antonietta||Tozzi, Sasha||Ammerman, James W

publication date

  • November 2011