Chlorophyll content and fluorescence responses cannot be used to gauge reliably phytoplankton biomass, nutrient status or growth rate


Author for correspondence: Kevin J. Flynn Tel: +44 1792 295726 Fax: +44 1792 295447 Email:


  • • To consider the relationship between chlorophyll a (Chl a) content and phytoplankton growth and nutrient status, four phytoplankton species were grown in nitrogen (N)-limited [and, for one species, phosphorus (P)-limited] culture and measurements were made of CNP biomass, in vivo and in vitro Chl a content, the ratio of variable to maximum fluorescence (FV/FM) and the performance index for photosynthesis, PIABS (a derivative of the O-J-I-P analysis of photosystem II functionality).
  • • Interspecies differences plus the development of intraspecies differences during nutrient stress produced c. 10-fold variations in Chl : C. Estimates of C from in vivo Chl content were better than those from extracted Chl content, as the decline in Chl : C during nutrient stress was offset in part by increased Chl fluorescence.
  • •  F V/FM was not a robust indicator of nutrient status or relative growth rate. Responses of FV/FM in cells re-fed the limiting nutrient showed no consistent pattern with which to gauge nutrient status. PIABS showed some promise as an indicator of nutrient status and relative growth rate.
  • • Chl a content and fluorescence parameters do not deserve the unquestioned status they usually enjoy as indicators of biomass and physiological status.