1. Samples from 16 lakes in central (n = 145) and western (n = 12) North America, the coastal northeast Pacific (n = 302) and the western Canadian Arctic Oceans (n = 142) were collected and analysed for viral, bacterial and cyanobacterial abundances and chlorophyll-a concentration.
2. Viral abundance was significantly different among the environments. It was highest in the coastal Pacific Ocean and lowest in the coastal Arctic Ocean. The abundances of bacteria and cyanobacteria as well as chlorophyll-a concentrations also differed significantly among the environments, with both bacterial abundance and chlorophyll-a concentration highest in lakes. As a consequence, the association of these variables with viral abundance varied among the environments.
3. Discriminant analyses with the abundance data indicated that the marine and freshwater environments were predictably different from each other. Multiple-regression analysis included bacterial and cyanobacterial abundances, and chlorophyll-a concentration as significant variables in explaining viral abundance in lakes. In regression models for the coastal Pacific Ocean, bacterial and cyanobacterial abundances were significant variables, and for the coastal Arctic Ocean viral abundance was predicted by bacterial abundance and chlorophyll-a concentration.
4. The relationship of viral and bacterial abundance differed between the investigated freshwater and marine environments, probably because of differences in viral production and loss rates. However, freshwaters had fewer viruses compared to bacteria, despite previously documented higher burst sizes and frequencies of infected cells, suggesting that loss rates may be more important in lakes.
5. Together, these findings suggest that there are different drivers of viral abundance in different aquatic environments, including lakes and oceans.