Research ArticleMarine Ecology

Unveiling the role and life strategies of viruses from the surface to the dark ocean

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Science Advances  06 Sep 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 9, e1602565
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602565

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Viruses are a key component of marine ecosystems, but the assessment of their global role in regulating microbial communities and the flux of carbon is precluded by a paucity of data, particularly in the deep ocean. We assessed patterns in viral abundance and production and the role of viral lysis as a driver of prokaryote mortality, from surface to bathypelagic layers, across the tropical and subtropical oceans. Viral abundance showed significant differences between oceans in the epipelagic and mesopelagic, but not in the bathypelagic, and decreased with depth, with an average power-law scaling exponent of −1.03 km−1 from an average of 7.76 × 106 viruses ml−1 in the epipelagic to 0.62 × 106 viruses ml−1 in the bathypelagic layer with an average integrated (0 to 4000 m) viral stock of about 0.004 to 0.044 g C m−2, half of which is found below 775 m. Lysogenic viral production was higher than lytic viral production in surface waters, whereas the opposite was found in the bathypelagic, where prokaryotic mortality due to viruses was estimated to be 60 times higher than grazing. Free viruses had turnover times of 0.1 days in the bathypelagic, revealing that viruses in the bathypelagic are highly dynamic. On the basis of the rates of lysed prokaryotic cells, we estimated that viruses release 145 Gt C year−1 in the global tropical and subtropical oceans. The active viral processes reported here demonstrate the importance of viruses in the production of dissolved organic carbon in the dark ocean, a major pathway in carbon cycling.

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