Bacterioplankton in the light of seasonality and environmental drivers

Bacterioplankton are keystone organisms in marine ecosystems. They are important for element cycles, by transforming dissolved organic carbon and other nutrients. Bacterioplankton community composition and productivity rates change in surface waters over spatial and temporal scales. Yet, many underlying biological processes determining when, why and how bacterioplankton react to changes in environmental conditions are poorly understood. Here, I used experiments with model bacteria and natural assemblages as well as field studies to determine molecular, physiological and ecological responses allowing marine bacteria to adapt to their environment.

Experiments with the flavobacterium Dokdonia sp. MED134 aimed to determine how the metabolism of bacteria is influenced by light and different organic matter. Under light exposure, Dokdonia sp. MED134 expressed proteorhodopsin and adjusted its metabolism to use resources more efficiently when growing with lower-quality organic matter. Similar expression patterns were found in oceanic datasets, implying a global importance of photoheterotrophic metabolisms for the ecology of bacterioplankton.

Further, I investigated how the composition and physiology of bacterial assemblages are affected by elevated CO2 concentrations and inorganic nutrients. In a large-scale experiment, bacterioplankton could keep productivity and community structure unaltered by adapting the gene expression under CO2 stress. To maintain pH homeostasis, bacteria induced higher expression of genes related to respiration, membrane transport and light acquisition under low-nutrient conditions. Under high-nutrient conditions with phytoplankton blooms, such regulatory mechanisms were not necessary. These findings indicate that open ocean systems are more vulnerable to ocean acidification than coastal waters.

Lastly, I used field studies to resolve how bacterioplankton is influenced by environmental changes, and how this leads to seasonal succession of marine bacteria. Using high frequency sampling over three years, we uncovered notable variability both between and within years in several biological features that rapidly changed over short time scales. These included potential phytoplankton-bacteria linkages, substrate uptake rates, and shifts in bacterial community structure. Thus, high resolution time series can provide important insights into the mechanisms controlling microbial communities.

Overall, this thesis highlights the advantages of combining molecular and traditional oceanographic methodological approaches to study ecosystems at high resolution for improving our understanding of the physiology and ecology of microbial communities and, ultimately, how they influence biogeochemical processes.

Bunse C., 2017. Bacterioplankton in the light of seasonality and environmental drivers. PhD thesis, Linnaeus University, 54 p. Thesis.

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