Nitrogen and phosphorus co-limitation of bacterial productivity and growth in the oligotrophic subtropical North Atlantic

Mills, M. M., C. M. Moore, R. Langlois, A. Milne, E. Achterberg, K. Nachtigall, K. Lochte, R. J. Geider, J. La Roche

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(2), 2008, 824-834 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.2.0824

ABSTRACT: Bacterial productivity and biomass are thought to be limited by dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in much of the worldÂ’s oceans. However, the mixed layer of oligotrophic oceans is often depleted in dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphate, raising the possibility that macronutrients may also limit heterotrophic bacterial growth. We used nutrient bioassay experiments to determine whether inorganic nutrients (N, P, Fe) and/or DOC could limit bacterial productivity and biomass in the central North Atlantic during the spring of 2004 (Mar-Apr). We observed that both heterotrophic bacterial productivity and biomass were co-limited by N and P in the oligotrophic North Atlantic, and additions of labile DOC (glucose) provided no stimulation unless N and P were also added. Flow cytometry results indicated that only a small subset of large cells high in nucleic acid content were responsible for the increased productivity in the combined NP amendments. In contrast, nutrient additions elicited no net change on the dominant component of the bacterial population, composed of small cells with relatively low nucleic acid content. In the combined NP treatments the relative increase in bacterial production was greater than that measured when phytoplankton productivity was relieved of nitrogen limitation. These results suggest that N and P co-limitation in the bacterial community results in increased competition between the heterotrophic and autotrophic components of the surface communities in the Central North Atlantic Ocean, and potentially impacts the cycling of organic matter by the bacterioplankton.

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