Niche partitioning among Prochlorococcus ecotypes along ocean-scale environmental gradients

Science. 2006 Mar 24;311(5768):1737-40. doi: 10.1126/science.1118052.


Prochlorococcus is the numerically dominant phytoplankter in the oligotrophic oceans, accounting for up to half of the photosynthetic biomass and production in some regions. Here, we describe how the abundance of six known ecotypes, which have small subunit ribosomal RNA sequences that differ by less than 3%, changed along local and basin-wide environmental gradients in the Atlantic Ocean. Temperature was significantly correlated with shifts in ecotype abundance, and laboratory experiments confirmed different temperature optima and tolerance ranges for cultured strains. Light, nutrients, and competitor abundances also appeared to play a role in shaping different distributions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Biomass
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Genes, rRNA
  • Light
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Prochlorococcus / classification*
  • Prochlorococcus / genetics
  • Prochlorococcus / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Ribotyping
  • Seawater / microbiology*
  • Temperature


  • Nitrates