Dynamic variability of the phytoplankton electron requirement for carbon fixation in eastern Australian waters

David J. Hughes*, Joseph R. Crosswell, Martina A. Doblin, Kevin Oxborough, Peter J. Ralph, Deepa Varkey, David J. Suggett

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry (FRRf) generates high-resolution measures of phytoplankton primary productivity as electron transport rates (ETRs). How ETRs scale to corresponding inorganic carbon (C) uptake rates (the so-called electron requirement for carbon fixation, Φe,C), inherently describes the extent and effectiveness with which absorbed light energy drives C-fixation. However, it remains unclear whether and how Φe,C follows predictable patterns for oceanographic datasets spanning physically dynamic, and complex, environmental gradients. We utilise a unique high-throughput approach, coupling ETRs and 14C-incubations to produce a semi-continuous dataset of Φe,C (n = 80), predominantly from surface waters, along the Australian coast (Brisbane to the Tasman Sea), including the East Australian Current (EAC). Environmental conditions along this transect could be generally grouped into cooler, more nutrient-rich waters dominated by larger size-fractionated Chl-a (>10 μm) versus warmer nutrient-poorer waters dominated by smaller size-fractionated Chl-a (<2 μm). Whilst Φe,C was higher for warmer water samples, environmental conditions alone explained <20% variance of Φe,C, and changes in predominant size-fraction(s) distributions of Chl-a (biomass) failed to explain variance of Φe,C. Instead, normalised Stern-Volmer non-photochemical quenching (NPQNSV = F0′/Fv′) was a better predictor of Φe,C, explaining ~55% of observed variability. NPQNSV is a physiological descriptor that accounts for changes in both long-term driven acclimation in non-radiative decay, and quasi-instantaneous PSII downregulation, and thus may prove a useful predictor of Φe,C across physically-dynamic regimes, provided the slope describing their relationship is predictable. We also consider recent advances in fluorescence-based corrections to evaluate the potential role of baseline fluorescence (Fb) in contributing to overestimation of Φe,C and the correlation between Φe,C and NPQNSV – in doing so, we highlight the need for Fb corrections for future field-based assessments of Φe,C.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number103252
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Marine Systems
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


    • Fast Repetition Rate fluorometry
    • FRRf
    • Photosynthesis
    • Electron transport rate
    • Marine primary production
    • Carbon fixation


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