Variability in bacterial community structure during upwelling in the coastal ocean

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Over the last 30 years, investigations at the community level of marine bacteria and phytoplankton populations suggest they are tightly coupled. However, traditional oceanographic approaches cannot assess whether associations between specific bacteria and phytoplankton exist. Recently, molecular based approaches have been implemented to characterize specific members of different marine bacterial communities. Yet, few molecular-based studies have examined coastal upwelling situations. This is important since upwelling systems provide a unique opportunity for analyzing the association between specific bacteria and specific phytoplankton in the ocean. It is widely believed that upwelling can lead to changes in phytoplankton populations (blooms). Thus, if specific associations exist, we would expect to observe changes in the bacterial population triggered by the bloom. In this paper, we present preliminary data from coastal waters off New Jersey that confirm a shift in bacterial communities during a 1995 upwelling event recorded at a long-term earth observatory (LEO-15) in the Mid-Atlantic Bight. Using PCR amplification and cloning, specific bacterial 16S ribosomal RNA sequences were found which were present in upwelling samples during a phytoplankton bloom, but were not detected in non-bloom samples (surface seawater, offshore sites or sediment samples) collected at the same time or in the same area. These findings are consistent with the notion of specific associations between bacteria and phytoplankton in the ocean. However, further examination of episodic events, such as coastal upwelling, are needed to confirm the existence of specific associations. Additionally, experiments need to be performed to elucidate the mechanisms leading to the specific linkages between a group of bacteria and a group of phytoplankton.

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