Microbial Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 255–271

The uptake of inorganic nutrients by heterotrophic bacteria


  • D. L. Kirchman
    • College of Marine StudiesUniversity of Delaware
Controls of the Microbial Loop: Nutrient Limitations

DOI: 10.1007/BF00166816

Cite this article as:
Kirchman, D.L. Microb Ecol (1994) 28: 255. doi:10.1007/BF00166816


It is now well known that heterotrophic bacteria account for a large portion of total uptake of both phosphate (60% median) and ammonium (30% median) in freshwaters and marine environments. Less clear are the factors controlling relative uptake by bacteria, and the consequences of this uptake on the plankton community and biogeochemical processes, e.g., new production. Some of the variation in reported inorganic nutrient uptake by bacteria is undoubtedly due to methodological problems, but even so, uptake would be expected to vary because of variation in several parameters, perhaps the most interesting being dissolved organic matter. Uptake of ammonium by bacteria is very low whereas uptake of dissolved free amino acids (DFAA) is high in eutrophic estuaries (the Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay). The concentrations and turnover of DFAA are insufficient, however, in oligotrophic oceans where bacteria turn to ammonium and nitrate, although the latter only as a last resort. I argue here that high uptake of dissolved organic carbon, which has been questioned, is necessary to balance the measured uptake of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in seawater culture experiments. What is problematic is that this DIN uptake exceeds bacterial biomass production. One possibility is that bacteria excrete dissolved organic nitrogen (DON). A recent study offers some support for this hypothesis. Lysis by viruses would also release DON.

While ammonium uptake by heterotrophic bacteria has been hypothesized to affect phytoplankton community structure, other impacts on the phytoplankton and biomass production (both total and new) are less clear and need further work. Also, even though bacteria account for a very large fraction of phosphate uptake, how this helps to structure the plankton community has not been examined. What is clear is that the interactions between bacterial and phytoplankton uptake of inorganic nutrients are more complicated than simple competition.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1994