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Uncoupling between dinitrogen fixation and primary productivity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea

March 11, 2013

In the nitrogen (N)-impoverished photic zones of many oceanic regions, prokaryotic organisms fixing atmospheric dinitrogen (N2; diazotrophs) supply an essential source of new nitrogen and fuel primary production. We measured dinitrogen fixation and primary productivity (PP) during the thermally stratified summer period in different water regimes of the oligotrophic eastern Mediterranean Sea, including the Cyprus Eddy and the Rhodes Gyre. Low N2 fixation rates were measured (0.8–3.2 µmol N m−2 d−1) excluding 10-fold higher rates in the Rhodes Gyre and Cyprus Eddy (~20 µmol N m−2 d−1). The corresponding PP increased from east to west (200–2500 µmol C m−2 d−1), with relatively higher productivity recorded in the Rhodes Gyre and Cyprus Eddy (2150 and 2300 µmol C m−2 d−1, respectively). These measurements demonstrate that N2 fixation in the photic zone of the eastern Mediterranean Sea contributes only negligibly by direct inputs to PP (i.e., cyanobacterial diazotrophs) and is in fact uncoupled from PP. By contrast, N2 fixation is significantly coupled to bacterial productivity and to net heterotrophic areas, suggesting that heterotrophic N2 fixation may in fact be significant in this ultraoligotrophic system. This is further substantiated by the high N2 fixation rates we measured from aphotic depths and by the results of phylogenetic analysis in other studies showing an abundance of heterotrophic diazotrophs.

Rahav E, Herut B, Stambler N, Bar-Zeev E, Mulholland M R, Berman-Frank I, in press. Uncoupling between dinitrogen fixation and primary productivity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 2013, doi:10.1002/jgrg.20023. Article (subscription required).

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