|Abstract or Summary
- Marine microorganisms play a significant role in the cycling of nutrients in the open ocean through production, consumption, and degradation of organic matter (OM). Carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) are essential ingredients in every known recipe for life. However, the cycling of each of these elements proceeds at different rates such that the ratio of C:N:P can vary widely between particulate, dissolved, organic, and inorganic pools. To better understand the mechanisms controlling these transformations, this study investigated the bacterial remineralization of photosynthetically-derived organic matter derived from cultures of Trichodesmium IMS101, Thalassiosira weissflogii, Prochlorococcus MED4, and particulate material collected from the surface waters of an upwelling regime. Experiments were conducted at sea for a short duration (<6d) and in the laboratory for longer periods (<150 days). In all treatments, across experiments, we observed rapid and selective P remineralization independent of the type of organic material added. Full solubilization and remineralization of P typically occurred within a week. Conversely, N remineralization was slower, with only 39-45% of particulate N (PN) remineralized in shorter (6d) experiments and 55-75% of PN remineralized in <150d experiments. Nitrification was observed after 70-98 days depending on the remineralizing bacteria (isolated from either the Oregon coastal upwelling regime or the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG). Notably, these events did not transform the full complement of ammonium to nitrate. This differential lability between N and P led to rapid changes in the N:P ratio of inorganic pools as organic matter was depolymerized by varying bacterial populations. The variable input of potentially limiting elements could have consequences for primary productivity and particle export. Finally, we observed that in short-term experiments with heterotrophic bacteria collected from the NPSG, the N:P ratio of remineralization (11 ± 2.2) was independent of the N:P of added organic material (5-23). This uniformity of inorganic ratios implies differential lability and N:P composition of residual semi-labile and refractory organic matter. Formation of refractory C and N rich organic matter, often termed the microbial pump, is a significant pathway for the transport and sequestration of elements in the aphotic zone of the ocean interior. The experimental results reported here suggest that differential supply of POM leads to rapid and preferential P remineralization, N:P remineralization independent of the N:P of added substrates, and variable N:P of residual organic matter. These findings help constrain our knowledge of elemental cycling in the marine environment.