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Keywords:

  • diatom;
  • microphytobenthos;
  • motility;
  • photokinesis;
  • photomovement;
  • photoperception;
  • phototaxis

Motility of estuarine epipelic (mud-inhabiting) diatoms is an important adaptation to living in biofilms present within fine sediments. Motility allows cells to migrate within the photic zone in response to a wide range of environmental stimuli. The motile responses of two species of benthic diatoms to photon fluence rates and spectral quality were investigated. Cultures of Navicula perminuta (Grunow) in van Heurck and Cylindrotheca closterium (Ehrenb.) J. C. Lewin et Reimann both exhibited photoaccumulation at ∼200 μmol · m−2 · s−1 and photodispersal from photon flux densities (PFDs) of ∼15 μmol · m−2 · s−1. Photokinesis (changing cell speed) contributed toward photodispersal for both species, and red light (λ = 681–691 nm) was most effective at inducing this process. N. perminuta showed a phototactic (directional) response, with active movement in response to a light gradient. Although this response was exhibited in white light, these directional responses were only elicited by wavelengths from 430 to 510 nm. In contrast, C. closterium did not exhibit phototaxis under any light conditions used in this study. Motile benthic diatoms thus exhibit complex and sophisticated responses to light quantity and quality, involving combinations of photokinesis and phototaxis, which can contribute toward explaining the patterns of large-scale cell movements observed in natural estuarine biofilms.