The distribution of coccolithophorid assemblages is analyzed from water samples collected in the photic zone of the middle Ionian Sea during a cruise of R/V Urania in November-December 1997. Coccolithophorids are an important phytoplankton group in the oligotrophic eastern Mediterranean, and their coccoliths make an important contribution to the sediments of this area, being also widely used for paleoclimatic and paleoceanographic reconstructions. Nevertheless, studies on extant coccolithophorids ecology and distribution in the eastern Mediterranean are limited and mostly related to surface waters: this study, even if restricted to a single period of the year, provides the first detailed analysis of species distribution throughout the photic zone, with relation to the main local physicochemical parameters. During the investigated period, the area is characterized by the presence of a surface mixed layer, reaching a depth of 25 to 90 m. Below this layer, a marked thermo- and halocline is developed. Coccolithophorids are the dominant phytoplankton group in the investigated samples and reach concentrations up to 2 × 104 coccospheres per liter of seawater. The species assemblage is that typical of the subtropical latitude, with a general high species diversity and a well-defined depth distribution. It is in fact possible to recognize an upper photic zone assemblage, dominated by E. huxleyi and characterized by higher concentration and species diversity and a lower photic zone where typically deep-living species (i.e., F. profunda, G. flabellatus) are present. These two zones are separated by a transition layer, where species of both zones are represented and new ones appear. Such vertical distribution appears to be strictly related to the local hydrology, with the zone boundaries rising and falling as a function of the location of the isotherms. In particular the first significant occurrence of F. profunda from surface to the deep photic zone corresponds with the start of the thermocline. Comparison of present plankton data with the surface sediment record, although displaying a consistent pattern of species assemblage, shows some differences in the presence and relative abundance of some species (G. oceanica): this can be related to seasonal as well as interannual variations in the pattern and intensity of surface circulation in the investigated area.
- Eastern Mediterranean Sea