Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Interconnection of nitrogen fixers and iron in the Pacific Ocean: Theory and numerical simulations



[1] We examine the interplay between iron supply, iron concentrations and phytoplankton communities in the Pacific Ocean. We present a theoretical framework which considers the competition for iron and nitrogen resources between phytoplankton to explain where nitrogen fixing autotrophs (diazotrophs, which require higher iron quotas, and have slower maximum growth) can co-exist with other phytoplankton. The framework also indicates that iron and fixed nitrogen concentrations can be strongly controlled by the local phytoplankton community. Together with results from a three-dimensional numerical model, we characterize three distinct biogeochemical provinces: 1) where iron supply is very low diazotrophs are excluded, and iron-limited nondiazotrophic phytoplankton control the iron concentrations; 2) a transition region where nondiazotrophic phytoplankton are nitrogen limited and control the nitrogen concentrations, but the iron supply is still too low relative to nitrate to support diazotrophy; 3) where iron supplies increase further relative to the nitrogen source, diazotrophs and other phytoplankton coexist; nitrogen concentrations are controlled by nondiazotrophs and iron concentrations are controlled by diazotrophs. The boundaries of these three provinces are defined by the rate of supply of iron relative to the supply of fixed nitrogen. The numerical model and theory provide a useful tool to understand the state of, links between, and response to changes in iron supply and phytoplankton community structure that have been suggested by observations.