AME 54:153-162 (2009)  -  DOI:

Spatial distribution of viruses, bacteria and chlorophyll in the northern South China Sea

Lei He1,3,4,5, Kedong Yin1,2,*, Xiangcheng Yuan1,3, Dongmei Li1,3, Derong Zhang1,3, Paul J. Harrison3

1Key Laboratory of Tropical Marine Environmental Dynamics, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou 510301, PR China
2Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University (Nathan Campus), Brisbane, Queensland 4111, Australia
3Atmospheric, Marine and Coastal Environment (AMCE) Program, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
4Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 19A Yuquan Road, Shijingshan District, Beijing 100049, PR China
5Present address: Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao 266071, PR China
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The South China Sea is one of the largest marginal seas in the world. A cruise was conducted during September 2005 to investigate the spatial distribution of viral and bacterial abundance as well as nutrient and chlorophyll a (chl a) concentrations in the northern South China Sea (SCS). The northern SCS was divided into 3 regions: the estuarine coastal plume, continental shelf, and open ocean. Except for the estuarine coastal waters, the northern SCS is oligotrophic. The distribution of chl a and viral and bacterial abundances were closely related to the water mass since higher chl a and viral and bacterial abundances occurred in the upwelling region and the cold eddy. Viral and bacterial abundances decreased from the estuarine waters to offshore waters. On average, viral abundance was significantly higher (p < 0.05) in the estuarine coastal plume (25.2 ± 3.1 × 106 ml–1), than on the continental shelf (14.1 ± 6.5 × 106 ml–1) or the open ocean (11.7 ± 5.3 × 106 ml–1). Bacterial abundance followed a similar spatial distribution, ranging from 4.6 ± 1.1 × 106 ml–1 in the estuary to 1.6 ± 0.8 × 106 ml–1 in the open ocean. Ratios of viral to bacterial abundance (VBR) increased from near-shore to the coast and open ocean (5.6 ± 0.7, 6.1 ± 2.2 and 8.4 ± 4.7, respectively). This is due to the fact that viral abundance decreased slower than bacterial abundance from the estuarine plume to the open ocean. Viral abundance was more significantly correlated with bacterial abundance (p < 0.0001) than with chl a concentration (p = 0.001), suggesting that bacteria were the major host members for marine viruses in the oligotrophic northern SCS. The highest abundance of viruses highlighted the significant influence of the relatively nutrient- and organic-rich Pearl River outflow on the northern SCS and indicated that viruses also responded to anthropogenic inputs in marine ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Marine viruses · Marine bacteria · Chlorophyll a · South China Sea · Pearl River estuary · Virus-to-bacterium ratio

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Cite this article as: He L, Yin K, Yuan X, Li D, Zhang D, Harrison PJ (2009) Spatial distribution of viruses, bacteria and chlorophyll in the northern South China Sea. Aquat Microb Ecol 54:153-162.

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