skip to main content

Title: Warming Iron-Limited Oceans Enhance Nitrogen Fixation and Drive Biogeographic Specialization of the Globally Important Cyanobacterium Crocosphaera
Primary productivity in the nutrient-poor subtropical ocean gyres depends on new nitrogen inputs from nitrogen fixers that convert inert dinitrogen gas into bioavailable forms. Temperature and iron (Fe) availability constrain marine nitrogen fixation, and both are changing due to anthropogenic ocean warming. We examined the physiological responses of the globally important marine nitrogen fixer, Crocosphaera watsonii across its full thermal range as a function of iron availability. At the lower end of its thermal range, from 22 to 27°C, Crocosphaera growth, nitrogen fixation, and Nitrogen-specific Iron Use Efficiencies (N-IUEs, mol N fixed hour –1 mol Fe –1 ) increased with temperature. At an optimal growth temperature of 27°C, N-IUEs were 66% higher under iron-limited conditions than iron-replete conditions, indicating that low-iron availability increases metabolic efficiency. However, Crocosphaera growth and function decrease from 27 to 32°C, temperatures that are predicted for an increasing fraction of tropical oceans in the future. Altogether, this suggests that Crocosphaera are well adapted to iron-limited, warm waters, within prescribed limits. A model incorporating these results under the IPCC RCP 8.5 warming scenario predicts that Crocosphaera N-IUEs could increase by a net 47% by 2100, particularly in higher-latitude waters. These results contrast with published responses of another dominant nitrogen fixer ( Trichodesmium ), with predicted N-IUEs that increase most in low-latitude, tropical waters. These models project that differing responses of Crocosphaera and Trichodesmium N-IUEs to future warming of iron-limited oceans could enhance their current contributions to global marine nitrogen fixation with rates increasing by ∼91 and ∼22%, respectively, thereby shifting their relative importance to marine new production and also intensifying their regional divergence. Thus, interactive temperature and iron effects may profoundly transform existing paradigms of nitrogen biogeochemistry and primary productivity in open ocean regimes.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1851222 1657757
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Marine Science
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Increased stratification and mixed layer shoaling of the surface ocean resulting from warming can lead to exposure of marine dinitrogen (N2)‐fixing cyanobacteria to higher levels of inhibitory ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These same processes also reduce vertically advected supplies of the potentially limiting nutrient phosphorus (P) to N2fixers. It is currently unknown how UV inhibition and P limitation interact to affect the biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and carbon in these biogeochemically critical microbes. We investigated the responses of the important and widespread marine N2‐fixing cyanobacteriaCrocosphaera(strain WH0005) andTrichodesmium(strains IMS 101 and GBR) to UV‐A and UV‐B under P‐replete and P‐limited conditions. Growth, N2fixation, and carbon dioxide (CO2) fixation rates ofTrichodesmiumIMS 101 andCrocosphaerawere negatively affected by UV exposure. This inhibition was greater forTrichodesmiumIMS 101 than forCrocosphaera, which fixes N2only during the night and so avoids direct UV damage. Negative effects of UV on both IMS 101 andCrocosphaerawere less in P‐limited cultures than in P‐replete cultures. In contrast, no UV inhibition was observed in GBR, regardless of P availability. UV inhibition was related to different amounts of UV‐absorbing compounds produced by these isolates. Responses to UV radiation and P availability interactions were taxon‐specific, but our results indicated that in general, UV radiation effects onTrichodesmiumandCrocosphaerarange from negative to neutral. UV inhibition and its interactions with P limitation may thus have a substantial influence on the present day and future nitrogen and carbon cycles of the ocean.

    more » « less
  2. ABSTRACT Nitrogen-fixing (N 2 ) cyanobacteria provide bioavailable nitrogen to vast ocean regions but are in turn limited by iron (Fe) and/or phosphorus (P), which may force them to employ alternative nitrogen acquisition strategies. The adaptive responses of nitrogen fixers to global-change drivers under nutrient-limited conditions could profoundly alter the current ocean nitrogen and carbon cycles. Here, we show that the globally important N 2 fixer Trichodesmium fundamentally shifts nitrogen metabolism toward organic-nitrogen scavenging following long-term high-CO 2 adaptation under iron and/or phosphorus (co)limitation. Global shifts in transcripts and proteins under high-CO 2 /Fe-limited and/or P-limited conditions include decreases in the N 2 -fixing nitrogenase enzyme, coupled with major increases in enzymes that oxidize trimethylamine (TMA). TMA is an abundant, biogeochemically important organic nitrogen compound that supports rapid Trichodesmium growth while inhibiting N 2 fixation. In a future high-CO 2 ocean, this whole-cell energetic reallocation toward organic nitrogen scavenging and away from N 2 fixation may reduce new-nitrogen inputs by Trichodesmium while simultaneously depleting the scarce fixed-nitrogen supplies of nitrogen-limited open-ocean ecosystems. IMPORTANCE Trichodesmium is among the most biogeochemically significant microorganisms in the ocean, since it supplies up to 50% of the new nitrogen supporting open-ocean food webs. We used Trichodesmium cultures adapted to high-CO 2 conditions for 7 years, followed by additional exposure to iron and/or phosphorus (co)limitation. We show that “future ocean” conditions of high CO 2 and concurrent nutrient limitation(s) fundamentally shift nitrogen metabolism away from nitrogen fixation and instead toward upregulation of organic nitrogen-scavenging pathways. We show that the responses of Trichodesmium to projected future ocean conditions include decreases in the nitrogen-fixing nitrogenase enzymes coupled with major increases in enzymes that oxidize the abundant organic nitrogen source trimethylamine (TMA). Such a shift toward organic nitrogen uptake and away from nitrogen fixation may substantially reduce new-nitrogen inputs by Trichodesmium to the rest of the microbial community in the future high-CO 2 ocean, with potential global implications for ocean carbon and nitrogen cycling. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    The unicellular diazotrophic cyanobacterium Crocosphaera contributes significantly to fixed nitrogen inputs in the oligotrophic ocean. In the western tropical South Pacific Ocean (WTSP), these diazotrophs abound thanks to the phosphorus-rich waters provided by the South Equatorial Current, and iron provided aeolian and subsurface volcanic activity. East of the WTSP, the South Pacific Gyre (SPG) harbors the most oligotrophic and transparent waters of the world's oceans, where only heterotrophic diazotrophs have been reported before. Here, in the SPG, we detected unexpected accumulation of Crocosphaera at 50 m with peak abundances of 5.26 × 105 nifH gene copies l–1. The abundance of Crocosphaera at 50 m was in the same order of magnitude as those detected westwards in the WTSP and represented 100% of volumetric N2 fixation rates. This accumulation at 50 m was likely due to a deeper penetration of UV light in the clear waters of the SPG being detrimental for Crocosphaera growth and N2 fixation activity. Nutrient and trace metal addition experiments did not induce any significant changes in N2 fixation or Crocosphaera abundance, indicating that this population was not limited by the resources tested and could develop in high numbers despite the oligotrophic conditions. Our findings indicate that the distribution of Crocosphaera can extend into subtropical gyres and further understanding of their controlling factors is needed.

    more » « less
  4. Gralnick, Jeffrey A. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Crocosphaera watsonii (hereafter referred to as Crocosphaera) is a key nitrogen (N) fixer in the ocean, but its ability to consume combined-N sources is still unclear. Using in situ microcosm incubations with an ecological model, we show that Crocosphaera has high competitive capability both under low and moderately high combined-N concentrations. In field incubations, Crocosphaera accounted for the highest consumption of ammonium and nitrate, followed by picoeukaryotes. The model analysis shows that cells have a high ammonium uptake rate (~7 mol N [mol N]^−1 d^−1 at the maximum), which allows them to compete against picoeukaryotes and nondiazotrophic cyanobacteria when combined N is sufficiently available. Even when combined N is depleted, their capability of nitrogen fixation allows higher growth rates compared to potential competitors. These results suggest the high fitness of Crocosphaera in combined-N limiting, oligotrophic oceans heightening its potential significance in its ecosystem and in biogeochemical cycling. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract. Trichodesmium species, as a group of photosynthetic N2 fixers(diazotrophs), play an important role in the marine biogeochemical cycles ofnitrogen and carbon, especially in oligotrophic waters. How ongoing oceanwarming may interact with light availability to affect Trichodesmium is not yet clear. Wegrew Trichodesmium erythraeum IMS 101 at three temperature levels of 23, 27, and 31∘C undergrowth-limiting and growth-saturating light levels of 50 and 160 µmol quanta m−2 s−1, respectively, for at least 10 generations and thenmeasured physiological performance, including the specific growth rate, N2fixation rate, and photosynthesis. Light availability significantly modulatedthe growth response of Trichodesmium to temperature, with the specific growth ratepeaking at ∼27∘C under the light-saturatingconditions, while growth of light-limited cultures was non-responsive acrossthe tested temperatures (23, 27, and 31∘C). Short-term thermalresponses for N2 fixation indicated that both high growth temperatureand light intensity increased the optimum temperature (Topt) forN2 fixation and decreased its susceptibility to supra-optimaltemperatures (deactivation energy – Eh). Simultaneously, alllight-limited cultures with low Topt and high Eh were unable tosustain N2 fixation during short-term exposure to high temperatures (33–34∘C) that are not lethal for the cells grown underlight-saturating conditions. Our results imply that Trichodesmium spp. growing under lowlight levels while distributed deep in the euphotic zone or under cloudyweather conditions might be less sensitive to long-term temperature changesthat occur on the timescale of multiple generations but are more susceptible toabrupt (less than one generation time span) temperature changes, such asthose induced by cyclones and heat waves. 
    more » « less