AME 19:205-213 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/ame019205

Distribution of viruses and their potential effect on bacterioplankton in an oligotrophic marine system

Núria Guixa-Boixereu, Dolors Vaqué, Josep M. Gasol, Carlos Pedrós-Alió*

Departament de Biologia Marina i Oceanografia, Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC, Passeig Joan de Borbó s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
*Addressee for correspondence. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Diel and spatial variability in the concentration of virus-like particles (VLP) was determined in a transect from the coast to offshore in the western Mediterranean (7 stations and 6 depths per station). VLP abundance in coastal waters was on average 1.6 x 107 VLP ml-1, in offshore stations this value was 1.2 x 107 VLP ml-1. At the coastal station there was no varaibility in VLP abundance, bacterial abundance or chlorophyll a concentration through the water column, while offshore VLP decreased with depth. No clear diel pattern was found in 3 representative stations where diel cycles were studied. Viral impact on the bacterial assemblage was estimated at 2 depths (surface and deep chlorophyll a maximum) of the latter 3 stations using 2 approaches: the percentage of visibly infected bacteria and viral decay rates in cyanide amended cultures. Visibly infected bacteria could not be detected in any sample after counting 300 cells per sample, implying that the percentage of visibly infected bacteria was lower than 0.3%. Using the maximal conversion factor to convert this value to bacterial mortality we found that viruses could be responsible at most for 21.5% of the whole bacterial mortality. We calculated a hypothetical viral decay rate if the maximal possible impact of viruses (21.5%) were true. This value corresponded to 0.02 h-1. However, using the cyanide method to measure viral decay rate, no significant decrease could be detected in a total of 8 viral decay experiments. In conclusion, the percent of total bacterial mortality due to viral lysis in the oligotrophic northwestern Mediterranean was low, certainly much lower than 20%.

KEY WORDS: Oligotrophy · Mediterranean Sea · Virus-like particles (VLP) · Diel cycles · Viral decay · Viral impact

Full text in pdf format