Phytoplankton growth after a century of dormancy illuminates past resilience to catastrophic darkness

Nat Commun. 2011;2:311. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1314.


Photosynthesis evolved in the oceans more than 3 billion years ago and has persisted throughout all major extinction events in Earth's history. The most recent of such events is linked to an abrupt collapse of primary production due to darkness following the Chicxulub asteroid impact 65.5 million years ago. Coastal phytoplankton groups (particularly dinoflagellates and diatoms) appear to have been resilient to this biotic crisis, but the reason for their high survival rates is still unknown. Here we show that the growth performance of dinoflagellate cells germinated from resting stages is unaffected by up to a century of dormancy. Our results clearly indicate that phytoplankton resting stages can endure periods of darkness far exceeding those estimated for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction and may effectively aid the rapid resurgence of primary production in coastal areas after events of prolonged photosynthesis shut-down.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Darkness
  • Dinoflagellida / genetics
  • Dinoflagellida / growth & development*
  • Dinoflagellida / physiology
  • Dinoflagellida / radiation effects*
  • Ecosystem
  • Light
  • Phytoplankton / genetics
  • Phytoplankton / growth & development*
  • Phytoplankton / physiology
  • Phytoplankton / radiation effects*