Variable phosphorus uptake rates and allocation across microbial groups in the oligotrophic Gulf of Mexico

Kimberly J. Popendorf, Solange Duhamel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Microbial uptake of dissolved phosphorus (P) is an important lever in controlling both microbial production and the fate and cycling of marine P. We investigated the relative role of heterotrophic bacteria and phytoplankton in P cycling by measuring the P uptake rates of individual microbial groups (heterotrophic bacteria and the phytoplankton groups Synechococcus, Prochlorococcus and picoeukaryotic phytoplankton) in the P-depleted Gulf of Mexico. Phosphorus uptake rates were measured using incubations with radiolabelled phosphate and adenosine triphosphate coupled with cell sorting flow cytometry. We found that heterotrophic bacteria were the dominant consumers of P on both a biomass basis and a population basis. Biovolume normalized heterotrophic bacteria P uptake rate per cell (amol P μm−3 h−1) was roughly an order of magnitude greater than phytoplankton uptake rates, and heterotrophic bacteria were responsible for generally greater than 50% of total picoplankton P uptake. We hypothesized that this variation in uptake rates reflects variation in cellular P allocation strategies, and found that, indeed, the fraction of cellular P uptake utilized for phospholipid production was significantly higher in heterotrophic bacteria compared with cyanobacterial phytoplankton. These findings indicate that heterotrophic bacteria have a uniquely P-oriented physiology and play a dominant role in cycling dissolved P.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3992-4006
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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