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Summary

Bacterial communities in the surface layer of the oceans consist of a few abundant phylotypes and many rare ones, most with unknown ecological functions and unclear roles in biogeochemical processes. To test hypotheses about relationships between abundant and rare phylotypes, we examined bacterial communities in the western Arctic Ocean using pyrosequence data of the V6 region of the 16S rRNA gene. Samples were collected from various locations in the Chukchi Sea, the Beaufort Sea and Franklin Bay in summer and winter. We found that bacterial communities differed between summer and winter at a few locations, but overall there was no significant difference between the two seasons in spite of large differences in biogeochemical properties. The sequence data suggested that abundant phylotypes remained abundant while rare phylotypes remained rare between the two seasons and among the Arctic regions examined here, arguing against the ‘seed bank’ hypothesis. Phylotype richness was calculated for various bacterial groups defined by sequence similarity or by phylogeny (phyla and proteobacterial classes). Abundant bacterial groups had higher within-group diversity than rare groups, suggesting that the ecological success of a bacterial lineage depends on diversity rather than on the dominance of a few phylotypes. In these Arctic waters, in spite of dramatic variation in several biogeochemical properties, bacterial community structure was remarkably stable over time and among regions, and any variation was due to the abundant phylotypes rather than rare ones.