Abstract: Physiological and developmental responses during and following long-term exposure to darkness were investigated in the Antarctic red algae Palmaria decipiens and Iridaea cordata. Thalli were kept in darkness for a period of 6 mo, simulating winter sea ice cover. Subsequently, they were grown illuminated under seasonally fluctuating Antarctic daylengths. During darkness, P. decipiens, an Antarctic endemic, rapidly lost its ability to photosynthesize although chlorophyll a content remained fairly constant. The amount of floridean starch decreased gradually in the dark, with a sudden drop simultaneous with the development of new blades. After reexposure to light there was a rapid increase in photosynthetic oxygen production, whereas the rate of carbon assimilation increased more slowly, resulting in high apparent photosynthetic quotients. The increase in growth rate showed a close relation to carbon assimilation, suggesting that carbon is utilized first for growth, then for floridean starch accumulation. In contrast to P. decipiens, the photosynthetic rate of the Antarctic cold-temperate I. cordata was still about half of the initial rate after a dark period of 6 mo, i.e. the alga maintained functionality of its photosynthetic apparatus during winter. After reexposure to light there was a continuous increase in specific growth rate due to increasing photosynthetic activity. Iridaea cordata also accumulated floridean starch during summer, although in smaller amounts than P. decipiens. Together with the ability to photosynthesize, starch accumulation facilitates survival during extended dark periods in winter. The early development of blade initials and the rapid increase in photosynthetic capability after illumination may permit P. decipiens to use the period of high water transparency optimally in Antarctic spring. Iridaea cordata seems better able to survive prolonged dark periods in areas with less predictable light conditions. Both physiological patterns are well suited to the highly seasonal light conditions in Antarctica.
Keywords: Winter; Polar waters; Photosynthesis; Antarctic zone; Ice cover; Seaweeds; Light effects; Plant physiology; Growth; Palmariales; Gigartinales; Iridaea cordata; Palmaria decipiens; Ps; Antarctica