PloS one

Lack of Physiological Depth Patterns in Conspecifics of Endemic Antarctic Brown Algae: A Trade-Off between UV Stress Tolerance and Shade Adaptation?

PMID 26252953


A striking characteristic of endemic Antarctic brown algae is their broad vertical distribution. This feature is largely determined by the shade adaptation in order to cope with the seasonal variation in light availability. However, during spring-summer months, when light penetrates deep in the water column these organisms have to withstand high levels of solar radiation, including UV. In the present study we examine the light use characteristics in parallel to a potential for UV tolerance (measured as content of phenolic compounds, antioxidant activity and maximum quantum yield of fluorescence) in conspecific populations of four Antarctic brown algae (Ascoseira mirabilis, Desmarestia menziesii, D. anceps and Himantothallus grandifolius) distributed over a depth gradient between 5 and 30 m. The main results indicated that a) photosynthetic efficiency was uniform along the depth gradient in all the studied species, and b) short-term (6 h) exposure to UV radiation revealed a high tolerance measured as chlorophyll fluorescence, phlorotannin content and antioxidant capacity. Multivariate analysis of similarity indicated that light requirements for photosynthesis, soluble phlorotannins and antioxidant capacity are the variables determining the responses along the depth gradient in all the studied species. The suite of physiological responses of algae with a shallower distribution (A. mirabilis and D. menziesii) differed from those with deeper vertical range (D. anceps and H. grandifolius). These patterns are consistent with the underwater light penetration that defines two zones: 0-15 m, with influence of UV radiation (1% of UV-B and UV-A at 9 m and 15 m respectively) and a zone below 15 m marked by PAR incidence (1% up to 30 m). These results support the prediction that algae show a UV stress tolerance capacity along a broad depth range according to their marked shade adaptation. The high contents of phlorotannins and antioxidant potential appear to be strongly responsible for the lack of clear depth patterns in light demand characteristics and UV tolerance.