Global marine bacterial diversity peaks at high latitudes in winter

ISME J. 2013 Sep;7(9):1669-77. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.37. Epub 2013 Mar 21.


Genomic approaches to characterizing bacterial communities are revealing significant differences in diversity and composition between environments. But bacterial distributions have not been mapped at a global scale. Although current community surveys are way too sparse to map global diversity patterns directly, there is now sufficient data to fit accurate models of how bacterial distributions vary across different environments and to make global scale maps from these models. We apply this approach to map the global distributions of bacteria in marine surface waters. Our spatially and temporally explicit predictions suggest that bacterial diversity peaks in temperate latitudes across the world's oceans. These global peaks are seasonal, occurring 6 months apart in the two hemispheres, in the boreal and austral winters. This pattern is quite different from the tropical, seasonally consistent diversity patterns observed for most macroorganisms. However, like other marine organisms, surface water bacteria are particularly diverse in regions of high human environmental impacts on the oceans. Our maps provide the first picture of bacterial distributions at a global scale and suggest important differences between the diversity patterns of bacteria compared with other organisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Biodiversity*
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Seasons*
  • Seawater / microbiology*
  • Water Microbiology*


  • DNA, Ribosomal