Light and temperature demands of marine benthic microalgae and seaweeds in polar regions

Iván Gómez 1 , Angela Wulff 2 , Michael Y. Roleda 3 , Pirjo Huovinen 4 , Ulf Karsten 5 , María Liliana Quartino, Ken Dunton 8  and Christian Wiencke 9
  • 1 Instituto de Biología Marina, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile
  • 2 Department of Marine Ecology, University of Gothenburg, P.O. Box 461, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
  • 3 Institute for Polar Ecology, University of Kiel, Wischhofstrasse 1–3, D-24148 Kiel, Germany
  • 4 Centro i-mar, Universidad de Los Lagos, Casilla 557, Puerto Montt, Chile
  • 5 Institute of Biological Sciences, Applied Ecology, University of Rostock, Albert-Einstein-Strasse 3, D-18057 Rostock, Germany
  • 6 Departamento de Ciencias del Mar, Instituto Antártico Argentino, Dirección Nacional del Antártico, Cerrito 1248 - C1010AAZ - Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 7 Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “B. Rivadavia”, Av. A. Gallardo 470 - C1405DJR - Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 8 Marine Science Institute, University of Texas at Austin, 750 Channel View Drive, Port Aransas, TX 78373, USA
  • 9 Department Seaweed Biology, Section Functional Ecology, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Am Handelshafen 12, D-27570 Bremerhaven, Germany


Polar algae have a striking ability to photosynthesize and grow under very low light and temperatures. In seaweeds, minimum light demands for photosynthetic saturation and compensation can be as low as 10 and 2 μmol photons m-2 s-1, respectively. For benthic microalgae, these values can be even lower because of the limited irradiance reaching deep sea floors. The extreme shade adaptation of these organisms sets their distributional limits at depths close to 40 m and enables them to tolerate long periods of extended darkness. In addition to their capability for efficient photosynthesis at extremely low light levels, polar algae possess metabolic adaptations to persist at low temperatures, which permit them to complete their life cycles at year-round temperatures close to 0°C. Seaweeds with the lowest temperature demands are the species endemic to the Antarctic while Arctic algae are comparatively less cold-adapted. These adaptive characteristics allow benthic marine algae to make high contributions to high latitude coastal primary productivity and energy fluxes, exceeding or equaling the production of primary producers in more temperate systems. The studies summarized here give important insights into the major physiological adaptations allowing marine benthic microalgae and seaweeds to colonize these extreme habitats.

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Botanica Marina publishes high-quality contributions from all of the disciplines of marine botany at all levels of biological organisation from subcellular to ecosystem: chemistry and applications, genomics, physiology and ecology, phylogeny and biogeography. Research involving global or interdisciplinary interest is especially welcome as well as applied science papers dealing with emerging conceptual issues or developing technologies.