Influence of nutrient status on the response of the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum to oil and dispersant. Academic Article uri icon


  • Phytoplankton play a central role in our ecosystems, they are responsible for nearly 50 percent of the global primary productivity and major drivers of macro-elemental cycles in the ocean. Phytoplankton are constantly subjected to stressors, some natural such as nutrient limitation and some manmade such as oil spills. With increasing oil exploration activities in coastal zones in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, an oil spill during nutrient-limited conditions for phytoplankton growth is highly likely. We performed a multifactorial study exposing the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum (UTEX 646) to oil and/or dispersants under nitrogen and silica limitation as well as co-limitation of both nutrients. Our study found that treatments with nitrogen limitation (-N and-N-Si) showed overall lower growth and chlorophyll a, lower photosynthetic antennae size, lower maximum photosynthetic efficiency, lower protein in exopolymeric substance (EPS), but higher connectivity between photosystems compared to non-nitrogen limited treatments (-Si and +N+Si) in almost all the conditions with oil and/or dispersants. However, certain combinations of nutrient limitation and oil and/or dispersant differed from this trend indicating strong interactive effects. When analyzed for significant interactive effects, the-N treatment impact on cellular growth in oil and oil plus dispersant conditions; and oil and oil plus dispersant conditions on cellular growth in-N-Si and-N treatments were found to be significant. Overall, we demonstrate that nitrogen limitation can affect the oil resistant trait of P. tricornutum, and oil with and without dispersants can have interactive effects with nutrient limitation on this diatom.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 5.08

author list (cited authors)

  • Kamalanathan, M., Hillhouse, J., Claflin, N., Rodkey, T., Mondragon, A., Prouse, A., Nguyen, M., & Quigg, A.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Kamalanathan, Manoj||Hillhouse, Jessica||Claflin, Noah||Rodkey, Talia||Mondragon, Andrew||Prouse, Alexandra||Nguyen, Michelle||Quigg, Antonietta

editor list (cited editors)

  • Franzetti, A.

publication date

  • January 2021