• algal-bacterial associations;
  • heterotrophic bacteria;
  • microautoradiography;
  • microelectrodes;
  • N2 fixation;
  • photosynthesis;
  • respiration;
  • Trichodesmium


On three separate occasions we investigated morphological and physiological aspects of bacterial associations with planktonic aggregates of the ubiquitous marine N2 fixing cyanobacterium Trichodesmium sp. Close associations generally characterized Trichodesmium blooms; associations were present during day- and night-time. Colonization by both rod-shaped and filamentous heterotrophic bacteria occurred on Trichodesmiun aggregates actively fixing N2 (acetylene reduction). Scanning electron and optical microscopy showed bacteria located both around and within aggregates. Microautoradiography demonstrated that associated bacteria largely mediated utilization of trace additions of 3H-labeled carbohydrates (fructose, glucose, mannitol) and amino acids, whereas Trichodesmium utilized amino acids only. Oxygen measurements using microelectrodes revealed high localized oxygen consumption among aggregates, with rapid (within a minute) changes from supersaturated to subsaturated oxygen following the transition from photosynthetic illuminated to dark periods. Stab culturing techniques confirmed the presence of heterotrophic N2 fixers among aggregate-associated bacteria. Parallel deployment of oxygen microelectrodes, the tetrazolium salt 2,3,5 triphenyl tetrazolium chloride (TTC) and acetylene reduction assays demonstrated microaerophilic requirements for expression of nitrogenase activity among cultured bacteria.

Trichodesmium aggregates are characterized by dynamic nutrient and oxygen regimes, which promote and maintain simultaneous and contiguous oxygenic photosynthesis and N2 fixation. In part, the above-mentioned consortial interactions with a variety of heterotrophic bacteria facilitate Trichodesmium biomass production and bloom formation in nitrogen depleted, oligotrophic tropical/subtropical waters.