The size-reactivity continuum of major bioelements in the ocean. Academic Article uri icon


  • Most of the carbon fixed in primary production is rapidly cycled and remineralized, leaving behind various forms of organic carbon that contribute to a vast reservoir of nonliving organic matter in seawater. Most of this carbon resides in dissolved molecules of varying bioavailability and reactivity, and aspects of the cycling of this carbon remain an enigma. The size-reactivity continuum model provides a conceptual framework for understanding the mechanisms governing the formation and mineralization of this carbon. In the seawater bioassay experiments that served as the original basis for this model, investigators observed that larger size classes of organic matter were more bioavailable and more rapidly remineralized by microbes than were smaller size classes. Studies of the chemical composition and radiocarbon content of marine organic matter have further indicated that the complexity and age of organic matter increase with decreasing molecular size. Biodegradation processes appear to shape the size distribution of organic matter and the nature of the small dissolved molecules that persist in the ocean.

published proceedings

  • Ann Rev Mar Sci

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Benner, R., & Amon, R.

citation count

  • 207

complete list of authors

  • Benner, Ronald||Amon, Rainer MW

publication date

  • January 2015