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Light-dependent grazing can drive formation and deepening of deep chlorophyll maxima.

  • Author(s): Moeller, Holly V;
  • Laufkötter, Charlotte;
  • Sweeney, Edward M;
  • Johnson, Matthew D
  • et al.

Deep Chlorophyll Maxima (DCMs) are subsurface peaks in chlorophyll-a concentration that may coincide with peaks in phytoplankton abundance and primary productivity. Work on the mechanisms underlying DCM formation has historically focused on phytoplankton physiology (e.g., photoacclimation) and behavior (e.g., taxis). While these mechanisms can drive DCM formation, they do not account for top-down controls such as predation by grazers. Here, we propose a new mechanism for DCM formation: Light-dependent grazing by microzooplankton reduces phytoplankton biomass near the surface but allows accumulation at depth. Using mathematical models informed by grazing studies, we demonstrate that light-dependent grazing is sufficient to drive DCM formation. Further, when acting in concert with other mechanisms, light-dependent grazing deepens the DCM, improving the fit of a global model with observational data. Our findings thus reveal another mechanism by which microzooplankton may regulate primary production, and impact our understanding of biogeochemical cycling at and above the DCM.

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