Bacterial activity and diffusive nutrient supply in the oligotrophic Central Atlantic Ocean

Josep M. Gasol, Evaristo Vázquez-Domínguez, Dolors Vaqué, Susana Agusti, Carlos Duarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Growing evidence of inorganic nutrient limitation on oceanic bacteria suggests a global dependence of bacterial activity and production on rates of nutrient supply. The present study examined whether surface bacterial abundance is significantly related to water column stability, and whether bacterial activity and growth rate are related to the rate of diffusive supply of inorganic nutrients to the mixed layer in the Central Atlantic during 2 meridional cruises. The 2 cruises were run under very different oceanic conditions, with relatively low values of bacterial activity in spring 1995 and relatively higher values in fall 1995. We obtained depth-resolved data in the second cruise and found that the integrated value of bacterial production was also related to the rate of nutrient supply, while integrated particulate primary production and chlorophyll concentration were not. There was also no relationship between particulate primary production and bacterial production. The relationship between nutrient supply and integrated bacterial production was tested with data from a mesocosm experiment showing a good fit to the pattern obtained in the Atlantic. Average bacterial production was ∼21 % of primary production in the Central Atlantic, with values ranging between 5 and 100%, and higher values in the tropical areas. The demonstration of a direct relationship between nutrient supply and bacterial activity helps to explain a relatively large bacterial biomass as compared to phytoplankton biomass, a low bacterial growth efficiency, and a high bacterial carbon demand relative to contemporaneous primary production often measured in the open ocean, as well as the accumulation of dissolved organic carbon(DOC) observed in nutrient-limited oligotrophic seas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalAquatic Microbial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 24 2009


  • Bacterial activity
  • Bacterial production
  • Central Atlantic
  • Mediterranean mesocosms
  • Nutrient supply
  • Primary production
  • Water column stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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