High vertical and low horizontal diversity of Prochlorococcus ecotypes in the Mediterranean Sea in summer


  • Present address: Nyree J. West, Observatoire Océanologique, UMR 7621 CNRS & Université Pierre et Marie Curie, BP 44, F-66651 Banyuls-sur-mer, France.

  • Editor: Patricia Sobecky

Correspondence: Laurence Garczarek, Station Biologique, UMR7144 CNRS & Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Roscoff, France. Tel.: +33 2 98 29 25 64; fax: +33 2 98 29 23 24; e-mail: garczare@sb-roscoff.fr


Natural populations of the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus exist as two main ecotypes, inhabiting different layers of the ocean's photic zone. These so-called high light- (HL-) and low light (LL-) adapted ecotypes are both physiologically and genetically distinct. HL strains can be separated into two major clades (HLI and HLII), whereas LL strains are more diverse. Here, we used several molecular techniques to study the genetic diversity of natural Prochlorococcus populations during the Prosope cruise in the Mediterranean Sea in the summer of 1999. Using a dot blot hybridization technique, we found that HLI was the dominant HL group and was confined to the upper mixed layer. In contrast, LL ecotypes were only found below the thermocline. Secondly, a restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of PCR-amplified pcb genes (encoding the major light-harvesting proteins of Prochlorococcus) suggested that there were at least four genetically different ecotypes, occupying distinct but overlapping light niches in the photic zone. At comparable depths, similar banding patterns were observed throughout the sampled area, suggesting a horizontal homogenization of ecotypes. Nevertheless, environmental pcb gene sequences retrieved from different depths at two stations proved all different at the nucleotide level, suggesting a large genetic microdiversity within those ecotypes.