AbstractInvestigation of phytoplankton biodiversity, ecology, and biogeography is crucial for understanding marine ecosystems. Research is often carried out on the basis of microscopic observations, but due to the limitations of this approach regarding detection and identification of picophytoplankton (0.2–2 μm) and nanophytoplankton (2–20 μm), these investigations are mainly focused on the microphytoplankton (20–200 μm). In the last decades, various methods based on optical and molecular biological approaches have evolved which enable a more rapid and convenient analysis of phytoplankton samples and a more detailed assessment of small phytoplankton. In this study, a selection of these methods (in situ fluorescence, flow cytometry, genetic fingerprinting, and DNA microarray) was placed in complement to light microscopy and HPLC-based pigment analysis to investigate both biomass distribution and community structure of phytoplankton. As far as possible, the size classes were analyzed separately. Investigations were carried out on six cruises in the German Bight in 2010 and 2011 to analyze both spatial and seasonal variability.
Microphytoplankton was identified as the major contributor to biomass in all seasons, followed by the nanophytoplankton. Generally, biomass distribution was patchy, but the overall contribution of small phytoplankton was higher in offshore areas and also in areas exhibiting higher turbidity. Regarding temporal development of the community, differences between the small phytoplankton community and the microphytoplankton were found. The latter exhibited a seasonal pattern regarding number of taxa present, alpha- and beta-diversity, and community structure, while for the nano- and especially the picophytoplankton, a general shift in the community between both years was observable without seasonality. Although the reason for this shift remains unclear, the results imply a different response of large and small phytoplankton to environmental influences.