Microbial community composition and nitrogen availability influence DOC remineralization in the South Pacific Gyre

Robert T. Letscher, Angela N. Knapp, Anna K. James, Craig A. Carlson, Alyson E. Santoro, Dennis A. Hansell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Many environmental factors are thought to control the bioavailability of marine dissolved organic matter (DOM) for marine microbes including its composition, the microbial community structure, and nutrient availability, yet which factors dominate at the ocean basin scale remains uncertain. Understanding the controls on DOM lability is an important goal given the role of DOM in the marine carbon cycle. We performed DOM lability experiments at two contrasting stations, one oligotrophic and one mesotrophic, in the eastern tropical South Pacific (ETSP) to investigate the controls on microbial remineralization of surface ocean DOM. Surface layer dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) were recalcitrant to remineralization over 9 to 14. days when exposed to the microbial communities from the surface mixed layer, however exposure to microbial communities from the upper mesopelagic (twilight zone) allowed consumption of DOC but not DON. The DOC remineralization response differed between the mesotrophic site (~ 21 μM consumed), likely experiencing allochthonous inputs of DOM from the adjacent eastern boundary upwelling system, versus the oligotrophic station (~ 3 μM consumed) further offshore in the South Pacific gyre. DNA fingerprinting of the microbial communities across the ETSP with terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analyses revealed greater differences between microbial communities in surface vs. subsurface (e.g., 100 m) waters at the same station than between surface water microbial communities separated by 1000s of kilometers. The subsurface microbial community at the mesotrophic station responsible for the greatest observed DOC remineralization, with a concomitant consumption of nitrate, consumed DOC to concentrations below that observed in situ (at 100 m), suggesting a potential role for co-metabolism of relatively labile with more recalcitrant DOC or relief from micronutrient limitation, in driving the additional DOC consumption. DOC remineralization by the mesopelagic (200 m) microbial community was much less at the oligotrophic station and similar to previously published results from the Sargasso Sea. Both microbial community composition and nutrient availability contribute to DOM persistence over weekly timescales in the surface mixed layer with varying degrees of DOC lability in the subsurface waters of the ETSP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-334
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Chemistry
StatePublished - Dec 20 2015


  • C remineralization
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Microbial communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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