Buoyancy Regulation and the Potential for Vertical Migration in the Oceanic Cyanobacterium Trichodesmium
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- Villareal, T. & Carpenter, E. Microb Ecol (2003) 45: 1. doi:10.1007/s00248-002-1012-5
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Diel protein and carbohydrate content in Trichodesmium thiebautii was measured to evaluate the relationship to buoyancy status. Carbohydrate:protein ratio was the best predictor of buoyancy and fit a cosine curve with increasing values during the day and decreasing values at night in cycles that paralleled observed diel buoyancy patterns. This ratio also increased in short-term experiments as a function of light and increased in parallel with decreasing positive buoyancy. We used changes in this ratio to estimate the potential for vertical migration. Whereas limited vertical excursions in the upper 70 m are possible, deeper migrations appear unlikely unless respiration rates decrease significantly. N:P ratios in sinking and floating colonies were used to test for the P acquisition at depth (vertical migration). We noted that pooled N:P ratios were not significantly different between sinking and ascending colonies (N:P = 65.6 and 66.3, respectively) collected along the northern Australian coast, much like published results from north of Hawaii. Highly significant differences (p <0.0001) were observed in the western Gulf of Mexico between sinking and ascending colonies (N:P = 87.0 and 43.5, respectively) and provide the best direct evidence to date of vertical migration for P acquisition. Our physiological data on compositional changes during buoyancy reversals suggest a complex relationship between light and nutrients. It appears likely that light and P metabolism interact to regulate the vertical extent of migrations, with deep vertical migration regulated by P metabolism superimposed on a mixed-layer light-driven migration. The variability in N:P ratios suggests that care should be taken in assuming buoyancy reversals always result in P acquisition in this oceanic cyanobacterium.