The long-term persistence of phytoplankton resting stages in aquatic 'seed banks'

Marianne Ellegaard, Sofia Ribeiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

124 Citations (Scopus)


In the past decade, research on long-term persistence of phytoplankton resting stages has intensified. Simultaneously, insight into life-cycle variability in the diverse groups of phytoplankton has also increased. Aquatic ‘seed banks’ have tremendous significance and show many interesting parallels to terrestrial seed beds of vascular plants, but are much less studied. It is therefore timely to review the phenomenon of long-term persistence of aquatic resting stages in sediment seed banks. Herein we compare function, morphology and physiology of phytoplankton resting stages to factors central for persistence of terrestrial seeds. We review the types of resting stages found in different groups of phytoplankton and focus on the groups for which long-term (multi-decadal) persistence has been shown: dinoflagellates, diatoms, green algae and cyanobacteria. We discuss the metabolism of long-term dormancy in phytoplankton resting stages and the ecological, evolutionary and management implications of this important trait. Phytoplankton resting stages exhibiting long-term viability are characterized by thick, often multi-layered walls and accumulation vesicles containing starch, lipids or other materials such as pigments, cyanophycin or unidentified granular materials. They are reported to play central roles in evolutionary resilience and survival of catastrophic events. Promising areas for future research include the role of hormones in mediating dormancy, elucidating the mechanisms behind metabolic shut-down and testing bet-hedging hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-183
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • cyst
  • diatom
  • dinoflagellate
  • long-term viability
  • microalgae
  • sediment record
  • seed bed
  • spore

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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