Frequent blooms of phytoplankton occur in coastal upwelling zones creating hotspots of biological productivity in the ocean. As cold, nutrient-rich water is brought up to sunlit layers from depth, phytoplankton are also transported upwards to seed surface blooms that are often dominated by diatoms. The physiological response of phytoplankton to this process, commonly referred to as shift-up, is characterized by increases in nitrate assimilation and rapid growth rates. To examine the molecular underpinnings behind this phenomenon, metatranscriptomics was applied to a simulated upwelling experiment using natural phytoplankton communities from the California Upwelling Zone. An increase in diatom growth following 5 days of incubation was attributed to the genera Chaetoceros and Pseudo-nitzschia. Here, we show that certain bloom-forming diatoms exhibit a distinct transcriptional response that coordinates shift-up where diatoms exhibited the greatest transcriptional change following upwelling; however, comparison of co-expressed genes exposed overrepresentation of distinct sets within each of the dominant phytoplankton groups. The analysis revealed that diatoms frontload genes involved in nitrogen assimilation likely in order to outcompete other groups for available nitrogen during upwelling events. We speculate that the evolutionary success of diatoms may be due, in part, to this proactive response to frequently encountered changes in their environment.
© 2018 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.