Phytoplankton and Photosynthesis
Phytoplankton are the tiny, invisible plants of the ocean. As they float, they capture light, which drives their ability to assimilate nutrients. As they use light energy, they take up carbon dioxide, support marine productivity and release oxygen. Every second breath you take consumes oxygen released by phytoplankton. But too much light, or light for the wrong amount of time, can inhibit this photosynthesis of phytoplankton.
There are thousands of phytoplankton species. Some are good food for humans, others are toxic, and some are too small to be captured by consumers. Dr. Douglas Campbell, Canada Research Chair in Phytoplankton Ecophysiology, aims to screen through many strains of phytoplankton to assess how they grow in response to light level and photo-period. While doing so, he is training students to use high-throughput culturing, instrumentation, data capture and analyses.
Some species like a little light for a long time, while others do best with short, more intense bursts interspersed with darkness. These differences result from habitats with different water mixing and the patterns of day-length at different latitudes. As the ocean warms and the Arctic melts, many phytoplankton species are moving northward to chase their optimal temperatures. But this movement is introducing them to new combinations of light and day-length.
Ultimately, Campbell and his research team will learn to predict phytoplankton winners and losers. Working with ecologists and modellers, they aim to understand life in the future oceans.