AME 35:1-16 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/ame035001

Microscale heterogeneity in the activity of coastal bacterioplankton communities

Justin R. Seymour1,*, James G. Mitchell1, Laurent Seuront1,2

1Biological Sciences, Flinders University, PO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
2Ecosystem Complexity Research Group, Station Marine de Wimereux, CNRS-UMR 8013 ELICO, Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, 28 avenue Foch, 62930 Wimereux, France

ABSTRACT: Microscale sampling techniques and flow cytometry were employed to measure the distribution patterns of 8 subpopulations of bacteria separated according to variations in cell fluorescence and light scatter properties. Subpopulations of bacteria defined on the basis of these parameters have recently been shown to represent cells exhibiting dissimilar activity levels, and we therefore assume that the subpopulations of bacteria identified here represent metabolically diverse groups. Microscale distribution patterns of these subpopulations were measured at a resolution of 4.5 and 12 mm, within 2 dissimilar coastal habitats. A mean 2-fold change in the abundance of the total bacterial community across sample sets was observed. However, levels of spatial heterogeneity were consistently higher for the cytometrically defined subpopulations than total counts. In most samples, the population of bacteria exhibiting the highest levels of green fluorescence, or DNA content, and hence assumed to represent the most active bacteria in the community, also showed the highest levels of microscale spatial variability, with a maximum change in abundance of 14.5-fold observed across a distance of 9 mm. Where Zipf rank-size analysis was conducted, the microscale distributions of subpopulations differed significantly (p < 0.05) in 79% of cases, implying that bacterial communities are made up of physiologically distinct compartments, perhaps influenced by different microscale features of the environment. We suggest that these results provide the first evidence for the existence of microscale heterogeneity in the metabolic activity of aquatic bacterial communities.

KEY WORDS: Marine bacteria · Microscale heterogeneity · Flow cytometry · Single cell activity

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