Near-Surface Biogeochemistry and Phytoplankton Carbon Assimilation in the Rio de la Plata Estuary

  • Danilo L. CalliariEmail author
  • Mónica Gómez-Erache
  • Denise Vizziano Cantonnet
  • Cecilia Alonso


The Rio de la Plata estuary (RPE) is considered a highly productive ecosystem, but knowledge of its functioning is sparse, particularly at basal trophic levels. Direct measurements of primary production are scarce, and the mechanisms that drive biological production and biogeochemistry of nutrients and other key compounds are largely unknown. This review summarizes the current information available in published literature in standard journals and other sources and explores driving mechanisms for photosynthetic carbon assimilation (PCA). A database was compiled which includes photosynthetic rates and ancillary environmental variables, i.e. salinity; chlorophyll a (as surrogate for phytoplankton biomass); dissolved inorganic macronutrients N, P and Si; suspended particulate matter (SPM); and underwater light environment. Information gathered covers an extended time period but clustered into an early (1980–1987) and a more recent one (1999–2009). Data was unequally distributed between both periods; for example, PCA data exist only for the most recent period. Data indicate prevalence of high photosynthetic rates in the RPE (mean of 29.25 ± 22.61 mg C m−3 h−1). The concentration of nutrients, SPM and indicators of underwater light regime covered wide ranges of variability with remarkable differences between both time periods. All these variables were strongly affected by salinity, showing either a decreasing pattern of concentration from freshwaters to marine waters (e.g. nutrients) or from marine waters to freshwaters (i.e. better light conditions in marine-influenced waters). These results were valid irrespective of the period and of the light environment indicator considered (Kd, turbidity). PCA was highest at intermediate surface salinities (10–20), decreasing both towards fresh and towards marine areas. Observed variability patterns of nutrients, SPM, light regime and carbon assimilation along the salinity gradient were consistent with mechanisms predicted by the theory developed for turbid estuaries, which propose that PCA is regulated by inverse horizontal gradients of light and nutrients.


Phytoplankton Chlorophyll Photosynthetic carbon assimilation Nutrients Turbidity 



Results presented in this paper were obtained during research programs and projects funded by diverse agencies: ECOPLATA program (IDRC-Canadá, UNESCO-PNUD, Ministry of Housing and Environment of Uruguay), FREPLATA program (UNDP-GEF, Argentina-Uruguay), Comisión Administradora del Río de la Plata (Argentina-Uruguay), FEMCIDI-OAS and Max Planck Partner Group projects. Data provided by INIDEP (Argentina) were produced by Dr. Constanza Hozbor (SPM, Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Microbiology) and Dr. José I. Carreto (chlorophyll a, Program for the Marine Environment and Red Tides) and are deeply acknowledged. Dr. Carla Derisio helped with making INIDEP data accessible for the present paper and contributed with discussions of SPM and chlorophyll data distribution. Comments by reviewers and editors – particularly Dr. F. P. Brandini – contributed to improve this paper and are greatly appreciated.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Danilo L. Calliari
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Mónica Gómez-Erache
    • 1
  • Denise Vizziano Cantonnet
    • 1
  • Cecilia Alonso
    • 2
  1. 1.Oceanografía y Ecología MarinaFacultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la RepúblicaMontevideoUruguay
  2. 2.Centro Universitario Regional del Este (CURE)Universidad de la RepúblicaRochaUruguay

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