• marine Synechococcus;
  • phosphorus;
  • physiology;
  • polyphosphate

Marine Synechococcus is ubiquitous in aquatic environments. However, distinct phylogenetic lineages of this genus have a complex ecological distribution that is not fully explained. Here, we undertook a broad study of the phosphorus (P)–related behavior of marine Synechococcus isolates from all previously described ribotypes (sensu Fuller et al. 2003). A wide variability in P-related physiology was noted among members of this genus, particularly in the utilization of organic P sources. However, some characteristics (e.g., cell size change during P limitation and the ability to accumulate polyphosphate) were largely consistent with their phylogenetic lineage and inferred ecology, with clear distinctions between oligotrophic, mesotrophic, and opportunistic lineages. Similarly, the ability to induce protein expression in response to P limitation was consistent with the presence/absence of phoB/R regulatory capacity of the corresponding strain. Taxonomic differences in P uptake, storage, and utilization strategies could explain the ubiquitous distribution of marine Synechococcus throughout the world’s oceans and explain the coexistence and/or ecological partitioning of multiple phototrophic taxa in the photic zone of tropical and subtropical oligotrophic oceans.