Microbial processes and temperature in Chesapeake Bay: current relationships and potential impacts of regional warming


Michael W. Lomas, Bermuda Biological Station for Research, 17 Biological Lane, St. Georges GE01, Bermuda, fax +441 297 8143, e-mail mlomas@bbsr.edu


The importance of temperature in regulating physiological processes is without question; however, the interpretation of the relationship between temperature and ecological data is much more complicated. Consequently, it is difficult to decide how the nature of the temperature response terms should be included in models used to predict responses of microbial processes to increasing regional temperature. This analysis compiles several years of data from a research programme conducted in Chesapeake Bay, in an effort to examine how individual microbial processes − as well as the balance between autotrophy and heterotrophy − have responded to temperature, and to predict changes in microbial trophic state based on realistic increases in global temperature. The upper boundary on all of the pelagic microbial rate processes that were measured could be described remarkably well as a linear function of temperature, although there was substantial scatter in the data. Pelagic microbial rate processes (e.g. phytoplankton production, respiration, bacterial productivity) showed a remarkably constrained range of Q10 values from 1.7 to 3.4. The one notable exception to this was nitrogen uptake in the North and Mid Bay, which exhibited Q10 values < 1.0. Proxies for phytoplankton biomass (e.g. chlorophyll) were largely independent of temperature while bacterial abundance was significantly related to temperature and was found to have a Q10 of 1.88.

    Using these individual temperature responses, the balance of autotrophy and heterotrophy was assessed by calculating the community photosynthesis to respiration (P:R), NH4+ uptake to regeneration (U:R) and phytoplankton to bacterial productivity (PP:BP) ratios for current conditions (all ratios) and for a 2 and 5 °C temperature increase (NH4+ U:R excluded). The NH4+ U:R ratio stayed remarkable constant at ∼1 over the entire temperature range supporting the importance of regenerative processes to nitrogen availability even during periods of heavy allochthonous inputs. These elevated temperature calculations for P:R and PP:BP suggest that the magnitude of autotrophic production during the spring bloom may decrease with increased regional temperature and, as a consequence, the Chesapeake Bay might become net heterotrophic on an annual timescale. These calculations should be considered with caution, but nonetheless demonstrate that the impact of increasing temperature on the balance of autotrophic and heterotrophic processes needs to be researched further.