Ecological control of nitrite in the upper ocean
Zakem, Emily J.
Church, Matthew J.
van Dijken, Gert L.
Foster, Sarah Q.
Fulweiler, Robinson W.
Mills, Matthew M.
Follows, Michael J.
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Citation (published version)Emily J Zakem, Alia Al-Haj, Matthew J Church, Gert L van Dijken, Stephanie Dutkiewicz, Sarah Q Foster, Robinson W Fulweiler, Matthew M Mills, Michael J Follows. 2018. "Ecological control of nitrite in the upper ocean.." Nature Communications, Volume 9, Issue 1, Article number: 1206. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03553-w
Microorganisms oxidize organic nitrogen to nitrate in a series of steps. Nitrite, an intermediate product, accumulates at the base of the sunlit layer in the subtropical ocean, forming a primary nitrite maximum, but can accumulate throughout the sunlit layer at higher latitudes. We model nitrifying chemoautotrophs in a marine ecosystem and demonstrate that microbial community interactions can explain the nitrite distributions. Our theoretical framework proposes that nitrite can accumulate to a higher concentration than ammonium because of differences in underlying redox chemistry and cell size between ammonia- and nitrite-oxidizing chemoautotrophs. Using ocean circulation models, we demonstrate that nitrifying microorganisms are excluded in the sunlit layer when phytoplankton are nitrogen-limited, but thrive at depth when phytoplankton become light-limited, resulting in nitrite accumulation there. However, nitrifying microorganisms may coexist in the sunlit layer when phytoplankton are iron- or light-limited (often in higher latitudes). These results improve understanding of the controls on nitrification, and provide a framework for representing chemoautotrophs and their biogeochemical effects in ocean models.
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