Factors controlling bacterial abundance, biomass and growth at the Bermuda Atlantic time-series site

Gundersen, K. (1998) Factors controlling bacterial abundance, biomass and growth at the Bermuda Atlantic time-series site. University of Southampton, Faculty of Science, Department of Oceanography, Doctoral Thesis , 207pp.


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The Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site represents a unique hydrographical
oceanic environment to study the factors controlling bacterial growth dynamics. The region
was sampled at monthly intervals from 1991 to 1996. A typical annual cycle was defined by a
deep winter mixing, followed by an increasing stratification of the mixed layer through
summer and fall. There were striking seasonal patterns in phytoplankton productivity with a
strong maximum immediately following the deep winter mixing and the intrusion of inorganic
nutrients. Bacterial growth rates showed a similar pattern but had a secondary peak in late
summer/fall of the same magnitude as the spring bloom. Bacterial abundance showed only
slightly elevated concentrations in spring.
A number of time course storage experiments showed that bacterial abundance decreased by
24-50 % within 7-29 days in samples preserved with 2.5 % glutaraldehyde. By adding a
protease inhibitor prior to the addition of glutaraldehyde, the loss of bacterial cells was reduced
to 17-18 % over a 30 day period. These findings lead to the recommendation that samples for
bacterial abundance should be processed immediately for epifluorescence enumeration.
An average of 47 % of all bacterial cells passed the pore size of a Whatman GF/F filter and
these viable cells should be included in biomass estimates. An annual average of 26 % of
estimated C settled below the spigot of a Niskin water sampler. Consequently, C measurements
made on GF/F filters must account for the particles settling below the spigot of a water sampler
as well as the number of bacteria lost during the process of filtration.
This study is the first to present single cell elemental C, N and P measurements from natural
bacteria in the Sargasso Sea. A wide range in elemental content was found between single cells
and this could be expressed as a function of the cell size. By applying an average cell volume,
an annual average of 10 fg C, 1.9 fg N and 0.28 fg P was calculated per bacterial cell.
The average percentage integrated stocks of C in the upper 250 m of the water column, was
20 (phytoplankton), 18 (microheterotrophs) and 62 (other non-living detrital matter). Bacterial
biomass was higher than phytoplankton outside the spring bloom period, but non-living carbon
showed an overall dominance through out the year.
Phytoplankton generation time was relatively constant over the season. Bacterial generation
time was ten times longer and showed a greater seasonal variation, but largely followed the
changes in primary production. Assuming that 50-70 % of the bacterial cells were non-living,
the mean bacterial generation time was estimated to be 7 times (0-60 m) and 1.4 times (80-140
m) longer than phytoplankton generation time. During the spring bloom event, an average of
85 % of the bacterial growth rate was removed by grazing and viral lysis. This was the only
noted decoupling between growth and removal of bacteria at BATS. During the remainder of
the year bacterial growth was balanced by the loss rate, due to grazing and viral lysis.
A linear relationship was found between net DOC accumulation and primary production in
natural surface waters at BATS. Phytoplankton net DOC excretion constituted 42 % of the
primary production rate, while Trichodesmium colonies only excreted 12 % (puffs) and 23 %
(tufts). By using a conservative estimate of the bacterial growth efficiency (14 %) and the net
DOC accumulation rate from this study, gross DOC excretion was equivalent to the rate of
primary particulate C production. Results from this study suggests that bacteria at the BATS site
are using the majority of the DOC generated by primary production.
Prior to the spring bloom and the associated increase in DOC excretion, bacteria appeared to
be C limited in the surface waters at BATS. Following the peak in primary production and
coinciding with the depletion of inorganic nutrients in the euphotic zone, the bacterial cells
became less C starved, but never reached a true N or P limitation. Regenerated nutrients from
grazing and viral lysis of bacteria and new production by diazotrophic Trichodesmium colonies
and trichomes, may support the bacteria with N and P in the euphotic zone in summer and fall.
The substrate dependent growth and increase in biomass of bacteria exhibited at BATS in
spring, is indicative of a bottom-up controlled system, whereas the bacteria appeared to be topdown
controlled by grazing and viral lysis for the remainder of the year.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Digitized via the E-THOS exercise.
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GC Oceanography
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Ocean & Earth Science (SOC/SOES)
ePrint ID: 42091
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
September 1998Made publicly available
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2006
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2014 18:27
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/42091

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