F. de Jongh
- Adaptive divergence in pigment composition promotes phytoplankton biodiversity
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- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
The dazzling diversity of the phytoplankton has puzzled biologists for decades1-5. The puzzle has been enlarged rather than solved by the progressive discovery of new phototrophic microorganisms in the oceans, including picocyanobacteria6,7, pico-eukaryotes8, and bacteriochlorophyll-based9-11 and rhodopsin- based phototrophic bacteria12,13. Physiological and genomic studies suggest that natural selection promotes niche differentiation among these phototrophic microorganisms, particularly with respect to their photosynthetic characteristics14-16. We have analysed competition for light between two closely related picocyanobacteria of the Synechococcus group that we isolated from the Baltic Sea17. One of these two has a red colour because it contains the pigment phycoerythrin, whereas the other is bluegreen because it contains high contents of the pigment phycocyanin. Here we report theory and competition experiments that reveal stable coexistence of the two picocyanobacteria, owing to partitioning of the light spectrum. Further competition experiments with a third marine cyanobacterium, capable of adapting its pigment composition, show that this species persists by investing in the pigment that absorbs the colour not used by its competitors. These results demonstrate the adaptive significance of divergence in pigment composition of phototrophic microorganisms, which allows an efficient utilization of light energy and favours species coexistence.
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