A shipboard natural community continuous culture system for ecologically relevant low-level nutrient enrichment experiments

David A. Hutchins, Frances Pustizzi, Clinton E. Hare, Giacomo R. DiTullio

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 1:82-91 (2003) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2003.1.82

ABSTRACT: Inputs of low concentrations of new and regenerated forms of nitrogen (=1 µM) have large impacts on phytoplankton community structure and ocean biogeochemistry in the oligotrophic central gyres. However, current manipulative experimental methods cannot effectively simulate low-level, continuous supplies of nitrate, such as those from upwelling or eddy events, or steady-state inputs of regenerated ammonium and dissolved organic nitrogen from zooplankton grazing. Using a new shipboard continuous culture system based on laboratory chemostat methodology, we compared the effects of a continuous supply of 1 µM nitrate, ammonium, and urea-N at a dilution rate of 0.5 d–1 on algal community composition in the North Atlantic. In the Gulf Stream, continuous inputs of 1 µM nitrate dramatically changed phytoplankton community structure from dominance by cyanobacteria to dominance by diatoms. Equimolar continuous supplies of ammonium resulted in much smaller increases in total phytoplankton biomass, and favored a community co-dominated by diatoms and cyanobacteria, and promoted the growth of pelagophytes. In the Sargasso Sea, continuous 1 µM urea-N inputs greatly increased the biomass and dominance of Synechococcus relative to the initial community and compared with control and 1 µM nitrate additions. The shipboard natural community continuous culture system is uniquely suited for realistically simulating inputs of low levels of limiting nutrients, allowing new types of prognostic enrichment experiments that give novel insights into the processes that control phytoplankton community structure in the ocean.