MEPS 179:1-11 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps179001

Photosynthesis, respiration, and carbon turnover in sinking marine snow from surface waters of Southern California Bight: implications for the carbon cycle in the ocean

Helle Ploug1,*, Hans-Peter Grossart2,**, Farooq Azam2, Bo Barker Jørgensen1

1Max-Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstr. 1, D-28359 Bremen, Germany
2Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA
Present addresses:
*Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Copenhagen, Strandpromenaden 5, DK-3000 Helsingør, Denmark. E-mail:
**Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM), University of Oldenburg, PO Box 2503, D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany

ABSTRACT: Photosynthesis and respiration were measured in 1 to 6 mm large aggregates (marine snow) collected in the Southern Californian Bight, USA. The aggregates were freely sinking in a vertical flow system with an upward flow velocity which opposed the sinking velocity of individual aggregates during the measurements. The aggregates were net heterotrophic communities at light intensities <152 ± 64 µE m-2 s-1, and respiration comprised 75 ± 21% of gross photosynthesis at saturating light intensities >500 µE m-2 s-1. Bacterial densities on aggregates were >2000-fold higher than in the surrounding water. Cytophaga was highly abundant in the aggregate-associated bacterial community as identified by in situ hybridization techniques. Both the respiration rate per aggregate volume and the bacterial densities decreased with increasing aggregate size. The respiration rates normalized to the number of bacteria in single aggregates were 7.4 to 70 fmol C cell-1 d-1. The aggregate community respired 433 to 984 ng C d-1 per aggregate in darkness, which yielded a turnover time of 8 to 9 d for the total organic carbon in aggregates. Thus, marine snow is not only a vehicle for vertical flux of organic matter; the aggregates are also hotspots of microbial respiration which cause a fast and efficient respiratory turnover of particulate organic carbon in the sea.

KEY WORDS: Oxygen microelectrodes · Marine bacteria · Organic matter · Hydrolysis · Cytophaga

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