Temporal and vertical dynamics in picoplankton photoheterotrophic production in the subtropical North Pacific Ocean

Matthew J. Church, Hugh W. Ducklow, Ricardo M. Letelier, David M. Karl

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30 Scopus citations


Heterotrophic microbial production is a fundamental determinant in the flow of bioelements and energy within the pelagic ecosystems of the open ocean. To characterize the temporal dynamics in rates of heterotrophic picoplankton production (HPP), we examined vertical profiles of 3H-leucine ( 3H-leu) and [methyl-3H]-thymidine (3H-TdR) incorporation at Stn ALOHA (22° 45' N, 158° W) in the oligotrophic North Pacific Ocean. Euphotic zone rates of 3H-leu and 3H-TdR incorporation were measured in situ under light and dark conditions on cruises to Stn ALOHA between April 2000 and August 2005. Rates of 3H-leu and 3H-TdR incorporation were elevated in the well-lit upper euphotic zone (<75 m) and declined with increasing depth. In the mid-euphotic zone (75 to 125 m), where average PAR fluxes declined to 0.6-5 % of the surface irradiance, rates of 3H-leu were significantly greater when samples were incubated at in situ light levels (3H-leulight) than paired in situ incubations kept in the dark (3H-leudark) (1-way ANOVA, p < 0.05). Average rates of photostimulated 3H-leu (ΔLeu = 3H-leulight-3H-leu dark) in the upper 125 m varied between 4.2 and 11 pmol l -1 h-1, with ΔLeu approximately equal in magnitude to rates of 3H-leudark between 75 and 125 m. In contrast, rates of 3H-TdR did not display a similar sunlight enhancement, with rates of 3H-TdRlight and 3H-TdRdark not significantly different (1-way ANOVA, p > 0.05). Both 3H-leu and 3H-TdR displayed similar temporal variability, but neither proxy for HPP was correlated to measured rates of primary production. These observations provide the first examination of the temporal dynamics in HPP at Stn ALOHA, and lend insight into the potential importance of photoheterotrophic growth by Prochlorococcus spp. Although organic matter utilization by Prochlorococcus spp. has been documented previously, this is the first study to evaluate their potential role in secondary production of the oceanic ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-53
Number of pages13
JournalAquatic Microbial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 25 2006


  • North Pacific Ocean
  • Oligotrophic
  • Photoheterotrophy
  • Picoplankton production


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