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Summary

Marine picocyanobacteria of the genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are major contributors to oceanic primary production. The genera are genetically diverse, comprising several known ecotypes or lineages. However, little is known of the distribution of these lineages over large geographic areas. Here, we analysed the relative abundance of Prochlorococcus ecotypes and Synechococcus lineages at the ocean basin scale along an Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) using dot blot hybridization and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) techniques. The transect covered several contrasting oceanic provinces (gyres, upwelling, temperate regions) as well as environmentally ‘equivalent’ regions in the northern and southern hemisphere (northern and southern gyres and temperate regions). Flow cytometric data revealed a discrete separation in abundance of major picocyanobacterial genera. Prochlorococcus reached highest abundance in oligotrophic regions, while more mesotrophic waters were dominated by Synechococcus. Individual genetic lineages of both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus showed highly similar distributions in corresponding regions in the northern and southern hemisphere. In addition, Prochlorococcus showed a distinctive depth distribution, with HLI and HLII ecotypes near the surface and co-occurring LL ecotypes further down in the water column. Conversely, Synechococcus generally revealed no obvious depth preference, but did show highly specific distribution at the horizontal scale, with clades I and IV particularly dominating temperate, mesotrophic waters in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The data clearly reveal that specific picocyanobacterial lineages proliferate in similar oceanic provinces separated by large spatial scales. Furthermore, comparison with an earlier AMT dataset suggests that basin scale distribution patterns for Prochlorococcus ecotypes are remarkably reproducible from year to year.