• carbon metabolism;
  • chlorophyll fluorescence;
  • photoinhibition;
  • photosynthesis;
  • PSII photochemistry


Epipelic diatoms are important components of microphytobenthic biofilms. Cultures of four diatom species (Amphora coffeaeformis, Cylindrotheca closterium, Navicula perminuta and Nitzschia epithemioides) and assemblages of mixed diatom species collected from an estuary were exposed to elevated levels of ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation. Short exposures to UV-B resulted in decreases in photosystem II (PSII) photochemistry, photosynthetic electron transport, photosynthetic carbon assimilation and changes in the pattern of allocation of assimilated carbon into soluble colloidal, extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) and glucan pools. The magnitude of the effects of the UV-B treatments varied between species and was also dependent upon the photosynthetically active photon flux density (PPFD) to which the cells were also exposed, with effects being greater at lower light levels. Both increases in non-photochemical quenching of excitation energy in the pigment antennae and photodamage to the D1 reaction centres contributed to decreases in PSII photochemistry. All species demonstrated a rapid ability to recover from perturbations of PSII photochemistry, with some species recovering during the UV-B exposure period. Some of the perturbations induced in carbon metabolism were independent of effects on PSII photochemistry and photosynthetic electron transport. Elevated UV-B can significantly inhibit photosynthetic performance, and modify carbon metabolism in epipelic diatoms. However, the ecological effects of UV-B at the community level are difficult to predict as large variations occur between species.