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This study aimed to determine the role of light on the succession of the phytoplankton community during the spring bloom in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. To this end, three successive Lagrangian experiments were carried out between March and April 2003. The three experiments correspond to distinct phases of the bloom development (pre-bloom, bloom peak and post-bloom, respectively) and therefore to different trophic conditions. Phytoplankton (sampled on a daily scale) was grouped in size-based classes (pico and nano+micro) each of them were characterised in terms of chemotaxonomic composition, primary production and photophysiological properties. The phytoplankton community evolved with time changing in both size-class dominance and specie/group dominance within each size class. The bloom peak was characterised by highly dynamic condition (i.e. vertical mixing) and by the dominance of both small (pico) and large (nano and micro) diatoms, as a result of their capacity to photoacclimate to changing light regimes (‘physiological plasticity’). Concluding, we suggest that the physiological adaptation to light is the main factor driving the succession of the phytoplankton community during the first phases of the bloom (until the onset of thermal stratification) in the western Mediterranean Sea.
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