Marine Biology

, Volume 66, Issue 2, pp 109–120 | Cite as

Thymidine incorporation as a measure of heterotrophic bacterioplankton production in marine surface waters: Evaluation and field results

  • J. A. Fuhrman
  • F. Azam


To assess bacterioplankton production in the sea, we have developed a procedure for measuring growth based on incorporation of tritiated thymidine into DNA; the accuracy of this procedure was tested under a variety of laboratory and field conditions. By autoradiography, we have found that for all practical purposes our technique is specific for the nonphotosynthetic bacteria and that virtually all of the “active” bacteria (one-third or more of the total countable bacteria) take up thymidine. We also measured (1) the intracellular isotope dilution of thymidine assessed by parallel experiments with labeled phosphorus, and (2) DNA content of natural marine bacteria (0.2 to 0.6 μm size fraction); a conversion factor derived from these data permitted estimation of production from thymidine incorporation results. A very similar conversion factor was independently derived from the empirical relationship between thymidine incorporation and growth of natural bacterioplankton under controlled conditions. Combined results show that this technique, which can be performed rapidly and easily at sea, provides good estimates of production. Data from Southern California Bight waters, which contain oligotrophic as well as moderately eutrophic regions, show that average bacterioplankton doubling times, like those of the phytoplankton, are on the order of a few days, with fastest growth at depths just below those of greatest phytoplankton abundance. Offshore bacterial production is roughly 5 to 25% of the primary production; thus, at a 50% assimilation efficiency, the bacterioplankton would consume 10 to 50% of the total fixed carbon.


Phytoplankton Thymidine Thymidine Incorporation Tritiated Thymidine Assimilation Efficiency 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. A. Fuhrman
    • 1
  • F. Azam
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Marine Resources, A-018, Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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