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Summary

Marine cyanobacteria of the genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are important contributors to global primary production occupying a key position at the base of marine food webs. The genetically diverse nature of each genus is likely an important reason for their successful colonization of vast tracts of the world's oceans, a feature that has led to detailed analysis of the distribution of these genetic lineages at the local and ocean basin scale. Here, we extend these analyses to the global dimension, using new data from cruises in the Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans in combination with data from previous studies in the Atlantic Ocean, Arabian Sea, Red Sea and a circumnavigation of the southern hemisphere to form a data set which comprises most of the world's major ocean systems. We show that the distribution patterns of Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus lineages are remarkably similar in different ocean systems with comparable environmental conditions, but producing a strikingly different ‘signature’ in the four major ocean domains or biomes (the Polar Domain, Coastal Boundary Domain, Trade Winds Domain and Westerly Winds Domain). This clearly reiterates the idea of spatial partitioning of individual cyanobacterial lineages, but at the global scale.