AME 25:1-10 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/ame025001

Effects of concentrated viral communities on photosynthesis and community composition of co-occurring benthic microalgae and phytoplankton

Ian Hewson1,*, Judith M. O¹Neil2, Cynthia A. Heil3, Gunnar Bratbak4, William C. Dennison1

1Marine Botany Group, Department of Botany, and
2Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane Queensland 4072, Australia
3College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, 140 7th Ave. S., St Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA
4Department of Microbiology, University of Bergen, Jahnebakken 5, 5020 Bergen, Norway
*Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, 3616 Trousdale Parkway AHF 107, Los Angeles, California 90089-0371, USA. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: Marine viruses have been shown to affect phytoplankton productivity; however, there are no reports on the effect of viruses on benthic microalgae (microphytobenthos). Hence, this study investigated the effects of elevated concentrations of virus-like particles on the photosynthetic physiology and community composition of benthic microalgae and phytoplankton. Virus populations were collected near the sediment surface and concentrated by tangential flow ultrafiltration, and the concentrate was added to benthic and water column samples that were obtained along a eutrophication gradient in the Brisbane River/Moreton Bay estuary, Australia. Photosynthetic and community responses of benthic microalgae, phytoplankton and bacteria were monitored over 7 d in aquaria and in situ. Benthic microalgal communities responded to viral enrichment in both eutrophic and oligotrophic sediments. In eutrophic sediments, Euglenophytes (Euglena sp.) and bacteria decreased in abundance by 20 to 60 and 26 to 66%, respectively, from seawater controls. In oligotrophic sediments, bacteria decreased in abundance by 30 to 42% from seawater controls but the dinoflagellate Gymnodinium sp. increased in abundance by 270 to 3600% from seawater controls. The increased abundance of Gymnodinium sp. may be related to increased availability of dissolved organic matter released from lysed bacteria. Increased (140 to 190% from seawater controls) initial chlorophyll a fluorescence measured with a pulse-amplitude modulated fluorometer was observed in eutrophic benthic microalgal incubations following virus enrichment, consistent with photosystem II damage. Virus enrichment in oligotrophic water significantly stimulated carbon fixation rates, perhaps due to increased nutrient availability by bacterial lysis. The interpretation of data from virus amendment experiments is difficult due to potential interaction with unidentified bioactive compounds within seawater concentrates. However, these results show that viruses are capable of influencing microbial dynamics in sediments.


KEY WORDS: Benthic microalgae · Moreton Bay · Virus-like particles · PAM fluorometry


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