Depth-related patterns in microbial community responses to complex organic matter in the western North Atlantic Ocean

Sarah A. Brown*, John Paul Balmonte, Adrienne Hoarfrost, Sherif Ghobrial, Carol Arnosti

*Corresponding author for this work

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Oceanic bacterial communities process a major fraction of marine organic carbon. A substantial portion of this carbon transformation occurs in the mesopelagic zone, and a further fraction fuels bacteria in the bathypelagic zone. However, the capabilities and limitations of the diverse microbial communities at these depths to degrade high-molecular-weight (HMW) organic matter are not well constrained. Here, we compared the responses of distinct microbial communities from North Atlantic epipelagic (0-200 m), mesopelagic (200-1000 m), and bathypelagic (1000-4000 m) waters at two open-ocean stations to the same input of diatom-derived HMW particulate and dissolved organic matter. Microbial community composition and functional responses to the input of HMW organic matter - as measured by polysaccharide hydrolase, glucosidase, and peptidase activities - were very similar between the stations, which were separated by 1370 km but showed distinct patterns with depth. Changes in microbial community composition coincided with changes in enzymatic activities: as bacterial community composition changed in response to the addition of HMW organic matter, the rate and spectrum of enzymatic activities increased. In epipelagic mesocosms, the spectrum of peptidase activities became especially broad and glucosidase activities were very high, a pattern not seen at other depths, which, in contrast, were dominated by leucine aminopeptidase and had much lower peptidase and glucosidase rates in general. The spectrum of polysaccharide hydrolase activities was enhanced particularly in epipelagic and mesopelagic mesocosms, with fewer enhancements in rates or spectrum in bathypelagic waters. The timing and magnitude of these distinct functional responses to the same HMW organic matter varied with depth. Our results highlight the importance of residence times at specific depths in determining the nature and quantity of organic matter reaching the deep sea.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number24
Pages (from-to)5617-5631
Publication statusPublished - 14. Dec 2022


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