Changes in Microbial Plankton Assemblages Induced by Mesoscale Oceanographic Features in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
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Mesoscale circulation generated by the Loop Current in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOM) delivers growth-limiting nutrients to the microbial plankton of the euphotic zone. Consequences of physicochemically driven community shifts on higher order consumers and subsequent impacts on the biological carbon pump remain poorly understood. This study evaluates microbial plankton <10 m abundance and community structure across both cyclonic and anti-cyclonic circulation features in the NGOM using flow cytometry (SYBR Green I and autofluorescence parameters). Non-parametric multivariate hierarchical cluster analyses indicated that significant spatial variability in community structure exists such that stations that clustered together were defined as having a specific 'microbial signature' (i.e. statistically homogeneous community structure profiles based on relative abundance of microbial groups). Salinity and a combination of sea surface height anomaly and sea surface temperature were determined by distance based linear modeling to be abiotic predictor variables significantly correlated to changes in microbial signatures. Correlations between increased microbial abundance and availability of nitrogen suggest nitrogen-limitation of microbial plankton in this open ocean area. Regions of combined coastal water entrainment and mesoscale convergence corresponded to increased heterotrophic prokaryote abundance relative to autotrophic plankton. The results provide an initial assessment of how mesoscale circulation potentially influences microbial plankton abundance and community structure in the NGOM.