Pigment ratios and phytoplankton assessment in northern Wisconsin lakes

Jean Pierre Descy, Harry W. Higgins, Denis J. Mackey, James P. Hurley, Thomas M. Frost

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Nine lakes in northern Wisconsin were sampled from February through September 1996, and HPLC analysis of water column pigments was carried out on epilimnetic seston. Pigment distributions were evaluated throughout the water column during summer in Crystal Lake and Little Rock Lake. The purpose of our study was to investigate the use of phytopigments as markers of the main taxonomic groups of algae. As a first approach, multiple regression of marker pigments against chlorophyll a (chl a) was used to derive the best linear combination of the main xanthophylls (peridinin, fucoxanthin, alloxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin). A significant regression equation (r2 = 0.98) was obtained for epilimnion data. The good fit indicates that the chl a:xanthophyll ratios were fairly constant in the epilimnion of the nine lakes over time. Chlorophyll a recalculated from the main xanthophylls in each sample showed good agreement with measured chl a in epilimnetic waters. A second approach used the CHEMTAX program to analyze the same data set. CHEMTAX provided estimates of chl a biomass for all algal classes and allowed distinction between diatoms and chrysophytes, and between chlorophytes and euglenophytes. These results showed a reasonably good agreement with biomass estimates from microscope counts, despite uncertainties associated with differences in sampling procedure. Changes of pigment ratios over time in the epilimnetic waters were also investigated, as well as differences between surface and deep samples of Little Rock Lake and Crystal Lake. We found evidence that changes in the ratio of photoprotective pigments to chl a occurred as a response to changes in light climate. Changes were also observed for certain light-harvesting pigments. The comparison between multiple regression and CHEMTAX analyses for inferring chl a biomass from concentrations of marker pigments highlighted the need to take account of variations in pigment ratio, as well as the need to acquire additional data on the pigment composition of planktonic algae.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-286
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Phycology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2000


  • Biomass estimation
  • HPLC analysis
  • Phytoplankton composition
  • Pigment ratios


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