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Processes in Microbial Ecology$
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David L. Kirchman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199586936

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586936.001.0001

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Microbial primary production and phototrophy

Microbial primary production and phototrophy

(p.55) Chapter 4 Microbial primary production and phototrophy
Processes in Microbial Ecology

David L. Kirchman

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on the most important process in the biosphere – primary production – the turning of carbon dioxide into organic material by higher plants and algae. While higher plants dominate terrestrial ecosystems, photosynthetic microbes account for nearly all of primary production in the oceans. After reviewing basic physiology of photosynthesis, the chapter discusses approaches to measuring gross and net primary production, and how these processes affect fluxes of oxygen and carbon dioxide into and out of aquatic ecosystems. It then points out that terrestrial plants have high biomass but relatively low growth, while the opposite is the case for aquatic algae. In spite of these fundamental differences, each ends up contributing roughly 50 percent of total primary production in the biosphere. But primary production varies greatly with the seasons in temperate ecosystems, punctuated by the spring bloom, when the biomass of one algal type, diatoms, reaches a maximum. Other abundant algal types include coccolithophorids in the oceans and filamentous cyanobacteria in freshwaters. After the bloom, small algae take over and out-compete larger forms for limiting nutrients because of superior uptake kinetics. Abundant types of small algae include two coccoid cyanobacteria – Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus – the latter said to be the most abundant photoautotroph on the planet because of its large numbers in oligotrophic oceans. Other algae, often dinoflagellates, are toxic. Many algae also can graze on other microbes, probably to obtain limiting nitrogen or phosphorus. Still other microbes are mainly heterotrophic, but are capable of harvesting light energy.

Keywords:   net community production, photosynthesis, biological pump, picoplankton, harmful algal blooms, proteorhodopsin, aerobic anoxygenic phototrophs, photoheterotrophs

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