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  1. Abstract

    Nano‐ and picophytoplankton are a major component of open‐ocean ecosystems and one of the main plankton functional types in biogeochemical models, yet little is known about their trace metal contents. In cultures of the picoeukaryoteOstreococcus lucimarinus, iron limitation reduced iron quotas by 68%, a fraction of the plasticity known in diatoms. In contrast, a commonly co‐occurring cyanobacterium,Prochlorococcus, showed variable iron contents with iron availability in culture. Synchrotron X‐ray fluorescence was used to measure single‐cell metal (Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Zn) quotas of autotrophic flagellates (1.4–16.8‐μm diameter) collected from four ocean regions. Iron quotas were tightly constrained and showed little response to iron availability, similar to culturedOstreococcus. Zinc quotas also did not vary with zinc availability but appeared to vary with phosphorus availability. These results suggest that macronutrient and metal availability may be equally important for controlling metal contents of small eukaryotic open‐ocean phytoplankton.

  2. Diatoms are prominent eukaryotic phytoplankton despite being limited by the micronutrient iron in vast expanses of the ocean. As iron inputs are often sporadic, diatoms have evolved mechanisms such as the ability to store iron that enable them to bloom when iron is resupplied and then persist when low iron levels are reinstated. Two iron storage mechanisms have been previously described: the protein ferritin and vacuolar storage. To investigate the ecological role of these mechanisms among diatoms, iron addition and removal incubations were conducted using natural phytoplankton communities from varying iron environments. We show that among the predominant diatoms,Pseudo-nitzschiawere favored by iron removal and displayed unique ferritin expression consistent with a long-term storage function. Meanwhile,ChaetocerosandThalassiosiragene expression aligned with vacuolar storage mechanisms.Pseudo-nitzschiaalso showed exceptionally high iron storage under steady-state high and low iron conditions, as well as following iron resupply to iron-limited cells. We propose that bloom-forming diatoms use different iron storage mechanisms and that ferritin utilization may provide an advantage in areas of prolonged iron limitation with pulsed iron inputs. As iron distributions and availability change, this speculated ferritin-linked advantage may result in shifts in diatom community composition that can alter marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles.

  3. Subsurface chlorophyll maximum layers (SCMLs) are nearly ubiquitous in stratified water columns and exist at horizontal scales ranging from the submesoscale to the extent of oligotrophic gyres. These layers of heightened chlorophyll and/or phytoplankton concentrations are generally thought to be a consequence of a balance between light energy from above and a limiting nutrient flux from below, typically nitrate (NO3). Here we present multiple lines of evidence demonstrating that iron (Fe) limits or with light colimits phytoplankton communities in SCMLs along a primary productivity gradient from coastal to oligotrophic offshore waters in the southern California Current ecosystem. SCML phytoplankton responded markedly to added Fe or Fe/light in experimental incubations and transcripts of diatom and picoeukaryote Fe stress genes were strikingly abundant in SCML metatranscriptomes. Using a biogeochemical proxy with data from a 40-y time series, we find that diatoms growing in California Current SCMLs are persistently Fe deficient during the spring and summer growing season. We also find that the spatial extent of Fe deficiency within California Current SCMLs has significantly increased over the last 25 y in line with a regional climate index. Finally, we show that diatom Fe deficiency may be common in the subsurface of major upwellingmore »zones worldwide. Our results have important implications for our understanding of the biogeochemical consequences of marine SCML formation and maintenance.

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  4. Abstract

    Phytoplankton iron contents (i.e., quotas) directly link biogeochemical cycles of iron and carbon and drive patterns of nutrient limitation, recycling, and export. Ocean biogeochemical models typically assume that iron quotas are either static or controlled by dissolved iron availability. We measured iron quotas in phytoplankton communities across nutrient gradients in the Pacific Ocean and found that quotas diverged significantly in taxon‐specific ways from laboratory‐derived predictions. Iron quotas varied 40‐fold across nutrient gradients, and nitrogen‐limitation allowed diatoms to accumulate fivefold more iron than co‐occurring flagellates even under low iron availability. Modeling indicates such “luxury” uptake is common in large regions of the low‐iron Pacific Ocean. Among diatoms, both pennate and centric genera accumulated luxury iron, but the cosmopolitan pennate genusPseudo‐nitzschiamaintained iron quotas 10‐fold higher than co‐occurring centric diatoms, likely due to enhanced iron storage. Biogeochemical models should account for taxonomic and macronutrient controls on phytoplankton iron quotas.