Major Role of the Cyanobacterium Trichodesmium in Nutrient Cycling in the North Atlantic Ocean

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Science  29 Nov 1991:
Vol. 254, Issue 5036, pp. 1356-1358
DOI: 10.1126/science.254.5036.1356


The diazotrophic cyanobacterium Trichodesmium is a large (about 0.5 by 3 millimeters) phytoplankter that is common in tropical open-ocean waters. Measurements of abundance, plus a review of earlier observations, indicate that it, rather than the picophytoplankton, is the most important primary producer (about 165 milligrams of carbon per square meter per day) in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. Furthermore, nitrogen fixation by Trichodesmium introduces the largest fraction of new nitrogen to the euphotic zone, approximately 30 milligrams of nitrogen per square meter per day, a value exceeding the estimated flux of nitrate across the thermocline. Inclusion of this organism, plus the abundant diazotrophic endosymbiont Richelia intracellularis that is present in some large diatoms, in biogeochemical studies of carbon and nitrogen may help explain the disparity between various methods of measuring productivity in the oligotrophic ocean. Carbon and nitrogen fixation by these large phytoplankters also introduces a new paradigm in the biogeochemistry of these elements in the sea.

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