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Food-web processes are important controls of oceanic biogenic carbon flux and ocean-atmosphere carbon dioxide exchange. Two key controlling parameters are the growth efficiencies of the principal trophic components and the rate of carbon remineralization. We report that bacterial growth efficiency is an inverse function of temperature. This relationship permits bacterial respiration in the euphotic zone to be computed from temperature and bacterial production. Using the temperature-growth efficiency relationship, we show that bacterial respiration generally accounts for most community respiration. This implies that a larger fraction of assimilated carbon is respired at low than at high latitudes, so a greater proportion of production can be exported in polar than in tropical regions. Because bacterial production is also a function of temperature, it should be possible to compute euphotic zone heterotrophic respiration at large scales using remotely sensed information.
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