Resource limitation of bacterial production distorts the temperature dependence of oceanic carbon cycling

Ángel López-Urrutia*, Xosé Anxelu G. Morán

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


Our view of the effects of temperature on bacterial carbon fluxes in the ocean has been confounded by the interplay of resource availability. Using an extensive compilation of cell-specific bacterial respiration (BRi) and production (BPi), we show that both physiological rates respond to changing temperature in a similar manner and follow the predictions of the metabolic theory of ecology. Their apparently different temperature dependence under warm, oligotrophic conditions is due to strong resource limitation of BPi but not of BRi. Thus, and despite previous preconception, bacterial growth efficiency (BGE = BPi/[BPi + BRi]) is not directly regulated by temperature, but by the availability of substrates for growth. We develop simple equations that can be used for the estimation of bacterial community metabolism from temperature, chlorophyll concentration, and bacterial abundance. Since bacteria are the greatest living planktonic biomass, our results challenge current understanding of how warming and shifts in ecosystem trophic state will modify oceanic carbon cycle feedbacks to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-822
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial growth efficiency
  • Bacterial production
  • Bacterial respiration
  • Carbon cycling
  • Metabolic theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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