South Pacific Gyre, Largest Ocean Desert, Driving Global Cycles
The South Pacific Gyre is an ocean desert. However, due to its vast size the microbial inhabitants of the South Pacific Gyre contribute significantly to global biogeochemical cycles.
Despite its remoteness, both satellite and in situ measurements indicate that the microorganisms living in the waters of the South Pacific Gyre (SPG) contribute significantly to global biogeochemical cycles. Thus, the scientists from Bremen were interested in discovering which microbes are living and active in this ocean desert. During a six-week research cruise on the German research vessel FS Sonne, organized and led by the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Greta Reintjes, Bernhard Fuchs and Tim Ferdelman collected hundreds of samples along a 7000 kilometre track through the South Pacific Gyre from Chile to New Zealand. The scientists sampled the microbial community at 15 Stations in water depths from 20 to more than 5000 metres, that is, from the surface all the way down to the seafloor.
Looking at our planet from the right side, there is a lot of water and little earth. RV Sonne crossed the SPG from Chile to New Zealand. The picture also shows chlorophyll concentrations derived from NASA imagery. Dark areas show the gyre middle or “desert”
. Credit: © modified from Google Earth / NASA
“To our surprise, we found about a third less cells in South Pacific surface waters compared to ocean gyres in the Atlantic”, Bernhard Fuchs reports. “It was probably the lowest cell numbers ever measured in oceanic surface waters.” The species of microbes were mostly familiar: ”We found similar microbial groups in the SPG as in other nutrient-poor ocean regions, such as Prochlorococcus, SAR11, SAR86 and SAR116”, Fuchs continues. But there was also a surprise guest amongst the dominant groups in the well-lit surface waters: AEGEAN-169, an organism that was previously only reported in deeper waters.
Credit: © Tim Ferdelman / Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology
The current research was only possible thanks to a newly developed method that enabled the scientists to analyse samples right after collection. “We developed a novel on-board analysis pipeline”, Reintjes explains, “which delivers information on bacterial identity only 35 hours after sampling.” Usually, these analyses take many months, collecting the samples, bringing them home to the lab and analysing them there. This pipeline combines next-generation sequencing with fluorescence in situ hybridisation and automated cell enumeration. “The outcome of our method developments is a readily applicable system for an efficient, cost-effective, field-based, comprehensive microbial community analysis”, Reintjes points out. “It allows microbial ecologists to perform more targeted sampling, thereby furthering our understanding of the diversity and metabolic capabilities of key microorganisms.”
Contacts and sources:
Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology
Citation: . On-Site Analysis of Bacterial Communities of the Ultraoligotrophic South Pacific Gyre.
Greta Reintjes, Halina E. Tegetmeyer, Miriam Bürgisser, Sandi Orlić, Ivo Tews, Mikhail Zubkov, Daniela Voß, Oliver Zielinski, Christian Quast, Frank Oliver Glöckner, Rudolf Amann, Timothy G. Ferdelman, Bernhard M. Fuchs Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2019; 85 (14) DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00184-19
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