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Title: Quantitative Analysis of the Trade-Offs of Colony Formation for Trichodesmium
ABSTRACT There is considerable debate about the benefits and trade-offs for colony formation in a major marine nitrogen fixer, Trichodesmium . To quantitatively analyze the trade-offs, we developed a metabolic model based on carbon fluxes to compare the performance of Trichodesmium colonies and free trichomes under different scenarios. Despite reported reductions in carbon fixation and nitrogen fixation rates for colonies relative to free trichomes, we found that model colonies can outperform individual cells in several cases. The formation of colonies can be advantageous when respiration rates account for a high proportion of the carbon fixation rate. Negative external influence on vital rates, such as mortality due to predation or micronutrient limitations, can also create a net benefit for colony formation relative to individual cells. In contrast, free trichomes also outcompete colonies in many scenarios, such as when respiration rates are equal for both colonies and individual cells or when there is a net positive external influence on rate processes (i.e., optimal environmental conditions regarding light and temperature or high nutrient availability). For both colonies and free trichomes, an increase in carbon fixation relative to nitrogen fixation rates would increase their relative competitiveness. These findings suggest that the formation of colonies in Trichodesmium might be linked to specific environmental and ecological circumstances. Our results provide a road map for empirical studies and models to evaluate the conditions under which colony formation in marine phytoplankton can be sustained in the natural environment. IMPORTANCE Trichodesmium is a marine filamentous cyanobacterium that fixes nitrogen and is an important contributor to the global nitrogen cycle. In the natural environment, Trichodesmium can exist as individual cells (trichomes) or as colonies (puffs and tufts). In this paper, we try to answer a longstanding question in marine microbial ecology: how does colony formation benefit the survival of Trichodesmium ? To answer this question, we developed a carbon flux model that utilizes existing published rates to evaluate whether and when colony formation can be sustained. Enhanced respiration rates, influential external factors such as environmental conditions and ecological interactions, and variable carbon and nitrogen fixation rates can all create scenarios for colony formation to be a viable strategy. Our results show that colony formation is an ecologically beneficial strategy under specific conditions, enabling Trichodesmium to be a globally significant organism.  more » « less
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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Veach, Allison
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Microbiology Spectrum
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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