Antarctic Science

Papers—Life Sciences and Oceanography

Microbial biomass, photosynthesis and chlorophyll a related pigments in the ponds of the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica

C. Howard-Williams a1, R. Pridmore a2, M.T. Downes a1 and W.F. Vincent a1
a1 Taupo Research Laboratory, DSIR, P.O. Box 415, Taupo, New Zealand
a2 Water Quality Centre, DSIR, P.O. Box 11–115, Hamilton, New Zealand

Article author query
howard-williams c   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
pridmore r   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
downes m   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
vincent w   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


The extensive ablation zone on the McMurdo Ice Shelf (78°S, 165°30′E) contains numerous ponds that are lined with benthic mats of cyanobacteria and associated micro-organisms. The photoautotrophic biomass content of these mats was examined in six contrasting ponds. Particulate carbon contributed only 3.2% of the mat dry weight, with C:N ratios generally less than 20:1. The chlorophyll a content was low relative to carbon (chlorophylla : C<0.01). Analysis of the mats by high performance liquid chromatography [HPLC] showed that the pigment fraction assayed spectrophotometrically as chlorophyll a contained large quantities (up to 70%) of the degradation product chlorophyllide a and the epimer chlorophyll a'. Photosynthetic rates per unit chlorophyll a[HPLC] were extremely slow: <0.1 mg C (mg Chla)−1, less than one tenth the rates recorded in the overlying phytoplankton community. These analyses indicate that in the ice pond benthic mats most of the dry weight is inorganic, most of the organic carbon is non-chlorophyll-containing material, and much of the chlorophyll a is not photosynthetically active. Cold temperatures and the associated low activity of herbivores and detritivores may contribute towards this preservation of inactive chlorophyll a on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, and perhaps in similar benthic mats in the lakes and streams of southern Victoria Land.

(Received January 3 1989)
(Accepted March 20 1989)

Key Words: benthic mats; carbon; cyanobacteria; high performance liquid chromatography; nitrogen; phosphorus.

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