Strong, weak, and missing links in a microbial community of the N.W. Mediterranean Sea

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*Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 4 93 76 38 34; Fax: +33 4 93 76 38 22. dolan@obs-vlfr.fr

Abstract

Planktonic microbial communities often appear stable over periods of days and thus tight links are assumed to exist between different functional groups (i.e. producers and consumers). We examined these links by characterizing short-term temporal correspondences in the concentrations and activities of microbial groups sampled from 1 m depth, at a coastal site of the N.W. Mediterranean Sea, in September 2001 every 3 h for 3 days. We estimated the abundance and activity rates of the autotrophic prokaryote Synechococcus, heterotrophic bacteria, viruses, heterotrophic nanoflagellates, as well as dissolved organic carbon concentrations. We found that Synechococcus, heterotrophic bacteria, and viruses displayed distinct patterns. Synechococcus abundance was greatest at midnight and lowest at 21:00 and showed the common pattern of an early evening maximum in dividing cells. In contrast, viral concentrations were minimal at midnight and maximal at 18:00. Viral infection of heterotrophic bacteria was rare (0.5–2.5%) and appeared to peak at 03:00. Heterotrophic bacteria, as % eubacteria-positive cells, peaked at midday, appearing loosely related to relative changes in dissolved organic carbon concentration. Bacterial production as assessed by leucine incorporation showed no consistent temporal pattern but could be related to shifts in the grazing rates of heterotrophic nanoflagellates and viral infection rates. Estimates of virus-induced mortality of heterotrophic bacteria, based on infection frequencies, were only about 10% of cell production. Overall, the dynamics of viruses appeared more closely related to Synechococcus than to heterotrophic bacteria. Thus, we found weak links between dissolved organic carbon concentration, or grazing, and bacterial activity, a possibly strong link between Synechococcus and viruses, and a missing link between light and viruses.

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