Inter-Research > AME > v25 > n3 > p247-258  
Aquatic Microbial Ecology

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AME 25:247-258 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/ame025247

Bacterial motility in the sea and its ecological implications

Hans-Peter Grossart*, Lasse Riemann**, Farooq Azam

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0202, USA
Present addresses: *Institute of Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, University of Oldenburg, PO Box 2503, 26111 Oldenburg, Germany. E-mail: **Freshwater Biological Laboratory, University of Copenhagen, 51 Helsingørsgade, 3400 Hillerød, Denmark

ABSTRACT: Motility could be an important adaptation of heterotrophic bacteria and archaea, and it may have ecological and biogeochemical implications. However, the limited observations so far show that only a small fraction (≤10%) of bacteria is motile We report a systematic 10 mo long field study off the coast of La Jolla, California, as well as a mesocosm study to examine bacterial motility and its relationship to environmental variables. Dark-field microscopy revealed periods of sustained low (fall and winter, <5 to 25%) and high (spring and summer, 40 to 70%) percentages of motile bacteria (% motile). Bacteria in natural seawater did not swim constantly nor at constant speeds; over 40% swam <20% of the time, and showed bursts of motility. Percent motile showed a distinct diel pattern and was not significantly correlated with tidal cycle, chlorophyll a, or the abundance of algae, bacteria, and heterotrophic nanoflagellates. However, it was positively related with particulate organic carbon throughout diel sampling on 24 to 26 September 1997. During a mesocosm diatom bloom % motile rose sharply as the bloom crashed, suggesting algal detritus may elicit motility. Enhanced % motile resulted in increased colonization of living and dead algal cells by bacteria. Filtering seawater through a 1 μm filter reduced % motile, again suggesting the importance of particulate loci. Enrichment with dissolved organic nutrients enhanced % motile only after 6 h but it rapidly (≤1 h) increased the ti individual bacteria were swimming. Our results show that a variable fraction of marine bacteria is able to respond to loci of organic matter, e.g. organic particles and algae, and that motility underlies dynamic patterns of ecological relationships (symbiosis, competition, parasitism) between bacteria and algae. Since motility may enhance bacteria-organic-matter coupling it is likely to be an important variable in the oceanic carbon cycle.

KEY WORDS: Bacterial motility · Chemotaxis · Bacterial clustering · Microscale · Microbial loop · Dark-field microscopy · Nutrient enrichment · Carbon cycle

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