Iron limits the cell division rate of Prochlorococcus in the eastern equatorial Pacific
Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(5), 2000, 1067-1076 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.5.1067
ABSTRACT: Prochlorococcus, a small unicellular cyanobacterium, is an important member of the phytoplankton community in the eastern equatorial Pacific. When these waters were enriched with iron during IronEx II, the chlorophyll per cell and cell size of Prochlorococcus increased, implying that they were iron limited. The extent of this limitation was unclear, however, and the number of Prochlorococcus remained constant. To examine whether cell division rates were stimulated significantly by iron, we used a cell cycle analysis approach to measure them in and out of the Fe-enriched patch and in Fe-enriched bottles. The cell division rate increased from 0.6 to 1.1 d-1 over 6 d of exposure to the elevated iron concentrations in the patch. Cells incubated in bottles with additional iron had rates of 1.4 d-1 or two doublings per day. Prochlorococcus mortality rates, measured independently, nearly doubled after the addition of iron. This matched the increase in the cell division rate and maintained a relatively constant population size. Thus the cell division rates of even the smallest phytoplankton in the equatorial Pacific are significantly iron limited, but biomass is constrained by both iron limitation and microzooplankton grazing. The differential response of individual phytoplankton groups to the addition of iron during IronEx II was at least partially a result of differential mortality rates over the time course of the experiment. How the community would respond to sustained fertilization, however, is not obvious.