Seasonal changes in temperature and nutrient control of photosynthesis, respiration and growth of natural phytoplankton communities


Peter A. Staehr, Freshwater Biological Laboratory, University of Copenhagen, Helsingørgade 51, 3400 Hillerød, Denmark. E-mail:


1. To investigate the influence of elevated temperatures and nutrients on photosynthesis, respiration and growth of natural phytoplankton assemblages, water was collected from a eutrophic lake in spring, summer, autumn, winter and the following spring and exposed to ambient temperature and ambient +2, +4 and +6 °C for 2 weeks with and without addition of extra inorganic nutrients.

2. Rates of photosynthesis, respiration and growth generally increased with temperature, but this effect was strongly enhanced by high nutrient availability, and therefore was most evident for nutrient amended cultures in seasons of low ambient nutrient availability.

3. Temperature stimulation of growth and metabolism was higher at low than high ambient temperature showing that long-term temperature acclimation of the phytoplankton community before the experiments was of great importance for the measured rates.

4. Although we found distinct responses to relatively small temperature increases, the interaction between nutrient availability, time of the year and, thus, ambient temperature was responsible for most of the observed variability in phytoplankton growth, photosynthesis and respiration.

5. Although an increase in global temperature will influence production and degradation of organic material in lakes, the documented importance of ambient temperatures and nutrient conditions suggests that effects will be most pronounced during winter and early spring, while the remaining part of the growth season will be practically unaffected by increasing temperatures.