Temperature and nutrient stoichiometry interactively modulate organic matter cycling in a pelagic algal–bacterial community

Julia Wohlers-Zöllner, Petra Breithaupt, Katja Walther, Klaus Jürgens and Ulf Riebesell

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(2), 2011, 599-610 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.2.0599

ABSTRACT: A microcosm experiment was conducted to investigate the interactive effects of rising sea-surface temperature and altered nutrient stoichiometry on the biogeochemical cycling of organic matter in a pelagic algal–bacterial assemblage. Natural seawater, containing a mixed bacterial community, was inoculated with an axenic culture of the bloom-forming diatom species Skeletonema costatum. A factorial combination of three temperatures, simulating weak to strong warming as projected for the end of the 21st century, and either nitrogen (N)-replete or -deficient growth conditions were applied. Depending on the type of nutrient limitation, the mixed algal–bacterial communities displayed pronounced differences in the accumulation and microbial utilization of organic matter in response to warming. Under N-deficient conditions, the build-up of organic matter occurred, irrespective of temperature, dominantly in the particulate pool, and only small amounts of dissolved material accumulated. The subsequent bacterial consumption of organic matter was low, as indicated by measurements of bacterial secondary production and extracellular enzyme activities, and remained also largely unaffected by an increase in temperature from 4°C up to 12°C. Contrastingly, warming resulted in a distinct temperature-dependent increase in the accumulation of dissolved organic carbon compounds under N-replete growth conditions. Moreover, rising temperature notably stimulated the bacterial activity, indicating an enhanced flow of organic matter through the microbial loop. These findings suggest that there will be strong shifts in the biogeochemical cycling of organic matter in the upper ocean in response to increased temperature and nutrient loading that will affect pelagic food-web structures and the biological sequestration of organic matter.

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