Marine diatoms grown in chemostats under silicate or ammonium limitation. III. Cellular chemical composition and morphology of Chaetoceros debilis, Skeletonema costatum, and Thalassiosira gravida

Research paper by P. J. Harrison, H. L. Conway, R. W. Holmes, C. O. Davis

Indexed on: 01 Sep '77Published on: 01 Sep '77Published in: Marine Biology


Three marine diatoms, Skeletonema costatum, Chaetoceros debilis, and Thalassiosira gravida were grown under no limitation and ammonium or silicate limitation or starvation. Changes in cell morphology were documented with photomicrographs of ammonium and silicate-limited and non-limited cells, and correlated with observed changes in chemical composition. Cultures grown under silicate starvation or limitation showed an increase in particulate carbon, nitrogen and phosporus and chlorophyll a per unit cell volume compared to non-limited cells; particulate silica per cell volume decreased. Si-starved cells were different from Si-limited cells in that the former contained more particulate carbon and silica per cell volume. The most sensitive indicator of silicate limitation or starvation was the ratio C:Si, being 3 to 5 times higher than the values for non-limited cells. The ratios Si:chlorophyll a and S:P were lower and N:Si was higher than non-limited cells by a factor of 2 to 3. The other ratios, C:N, C:P, C:chlorophyll a, N:chlorophyll a, P:chlorophyll a and N:P were considered not to be sensitive indicators of silicate limitation or starvation. Chlorophyll a, and particulate nitrogen per unit cell volume decreased under ammonium limitation and starvation. NH4-starved cells contained more chlorophyll a, carbon, nitrogen, silica, and phosphorus per cell volume than NH4-limited cells. N:Si was the most sensitive ratio to ammonium limitation or starvation, being 2 to 3 times lower than non-limited cells. Si:chlorophyll a, P:chlorophyll a and N:P were less sensitive, while the ratios C:N, C:chlorophyll a, N:chlorophyll a, C:Si, C:P and Si:P were the least sensitive. Limited cells had less of the limiting nutrient per unit cell volume than starved cells and more of the non-limiting nutrients (i.e., silica and phosphorus for NH4-limited cells). This suggests that nutrient-limited cells rather than nutrient-starved cells should be used along with non-limited cells to measure the full range of potential change in cellular chemical composition for one species under nutrient limitation.