T. Jickells, K. Weston, R. Chance
School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge
The importance of these nutrients reflects their vital role in biological reactions and their relatively low abundance in natural waters, meaning that their supply can become limiting for rates of growth. Silicon is unique among these nutrients in being used to form the skeletons of one major group of phytoplankton, the diatoms, while the other nutrients are used for cellular functions by all algae. Hence silicon limits the type of algae that grow, but not the overall productivity.
The role of oceanic phytoplankton
Phytoplankton and associated bacteria form the basis of the food web within the oceans, being consumed by larger zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by other zooplankton, fish, birds and marine mammals. The breakdown of their cells also fuels the bacteria, the action of which contributes to the regeneration of the nutrients.