Fast reactivation of photosynthesis in arctic phytoplankton during the polar night

Authors: Michael Greenacre

Journal of Phycology, Vol. 54, No 4, 461-470, August, 2018

Arctic microalgae experience long periods of continuous darkness during the polar night, where they are unable to photosynthesize. Despite numerous studies on overwintering strategies, such as utilization of stored energy products, formation of resting stages, reduction of metabolic rate and heterotrophic lifestyles, there have been few attempts to assess the in situ physiological state and restoration of the photosynthetic apparatus upon re-illumination. In this study, we found diverse and active marine phytoplankton communities during the polar night at 78° N. Furthermore, we observed rapid changes (≥20 min) in the efficiency of photosynthetic electron transport upon re-illumination. High photosynthetic capacity and net primary production were established after 24 h of re-illumination. Our results suggest that some Arctic autotrophs maintain fully functional photosystem II and downstream electron acceptors during the polar night even though the low in situ net primary production levels measured in January prove that light was not sufficient to support any measurable primary production. Due to low temperatures resulting in low respiratory costs as well as the absence of photo-damage during the polar night, maintenance of basic photosynthetic machinery may actually pose relatively low metabolic costs for algal cells. This could allow Arctic microalgae to endure the polar night without the formation of dormant stages, enabling them to recover and take advantage of light immediately upon its return during the winter-spring transition.