Dissolved organic nitrogen release and bacterial activity in the upper layers of the Atlantic Ocean

Marta M. Varela*, Antonio Bode, Xosé Anxelu G. Morán, Joaquín Valencia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The variability of the percentage of extracellular dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) release (PER), along with the relationship between DON release and bacterioplankton activity, was examined during five oceanographic cruises, carried out in the upwelling region of the NW Iberian Peninsula, the SW Bay of Biscay, and a latitudinal transect in the Atlantic Ocean (50°N-35°S). Rates of nitrogen uptake, DON release, and bacterial production were measured at 66 stations and sampled between August 1998 and October 2000. The percentage of DON release relative to the gross uptake of ammonium (PERNH4+) ranged from 3 to 46%, whereas that relative to total nitrogen (NH4 + + NO3 - + urea) gross uptake (PER total) varied between 21 and 82%. The highest values for both PERNH4+ and PERtotal were found in oligotrophic oceanic waters (<0.25 mg chlorophyll a m-3). In oceanic environments, a positive relationship was found between nitrogen uptake and DON release rates, with a log-log linear regression slope significantly lower than 1, suggesting an inverse relationship between PER and gross nitrogen uptake rates. In contrast, in areas with higher productivity levels (>6 mg chlorophyll a m -3), such as the continental shelf off the NW Iberian Peninsula, PER held constant as nitrogen uptake increased. These results suggest the dominance of different processes controlling DON release in oceanic and neritic zones. DON release rates accounted for less than 15% of the variability observed in bacterial production rates, suggesting a weak response of bacterioplankton to phytoplankton on short time scales (hours). Furthermore, nitrogen budgets showed an excess of DON release in relation to bacterial requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-500
Number of pages14
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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