Assessing the Role of Dissolved Organic Phosphate on Rates of Microbial Phosphorus Cycling

Ana C Gonzalez Valdes, Harvard University, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Cambridge, MA, United States, Kimberly J Popendorf, Columbia University of New York, Palisades, NY, United States and Solange Duhamel, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States
Phosphorus (P) is an element crucial to life, and it is limiting in many parts of the ocean. In oligotrophic environments, the dissolved P pool is cycled rapidly through the activity of microbes, with turnover times of several hours or less. The overarching aim of this study was to assess the flux of P from picoplankton to the dissolved pool and the role this plays in fueling rapid P cycling. To determine if specific microbial groups are responsible for significant return of P to the dissolved pool during cell lifetime, we compared the rate of cellular P turnover (cell-Pτ, the rate of cellular P uptake divided by cellular P content) to the rate of cellular biomass turnover (cellτ). High rates of P return to the dissolved pool during cell lifetime (high cell-Pτ/cellτ) indicate significant P regeneration, fueling more rapid turnover of the dissolved P pool. We hypothesized that cell-Pτ/cellτ varies widely across picoplankton groups. One factor influencing this variation may be each microbial group’s relative uptake of dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) versus dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP). As extracellular hydrolysis is necessary for P incorporation from DOP, this process may return more P to the dissolved pool than DIP incorporation. This leads to the question: does a picoplankton's relative uptake of DOP (versus DIP) affect the rate at which it returns phosphorus to the dissolved pool? To address this question, we compared the rate of cellular P turnover based on uptake of DOP and uptake DIP using cultured representatives of three environmentally significant picoplankton groups: Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus, and heterotrophic bacteria. These different picoplankton groups are known to take up different ratios of DOP to DIP, and may in turn make significantly different contributions to the regeneration and cycling phosphorus. These findings have implications towards our understanding of the timeframes of biogeochemical cycling of phosphorus in the ocean.