The oligotrophic ocean is heterotrophic

Carlos M. Duarte*, Aurore Regaudie-De-Gioux, Jesús M. Arrieta, Antonio Delgado-Huertas, Susana Agustí

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Incubation (in vitro) and incubation-free (in situ) methods, each with their own advantages and limitations, have been used to derive estimates of net community metabolism in the oligotrophic subtropical gyres of the open ocean. The hypothesis that heterotrophic communities are prevalent in most oligotrophic regions is consistent with the available evidence and supported by scaling relationships showing that heterotrophic communities prevail in areas of low gross primary production, low chlorophyll a, and warm water, conditions found in the oligotrophic ocean. Heterotrophic metabolism can prevail where heterotrophic activity is subsidized by organic carbon inputs from the continental shelf or the atmosphere and from nonphotosynthetic autotrophic and mixotrophic metabolic pathways. The growth of the oli-gotrophic regions is likely to be tilting the metabolic balance of the ocean toward a greater prevalence of heterotrophic communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-569
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
StatePublished - Jan 3 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • carbon inputs
  • metabolism
  • plankton
  • production
  • respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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