One group of microorganisms Doney and his colleague Yawei Luo have focused on cataloguing in MAREDAT is marine nitrogen-fixing bacteria called "diazotrophs." These unique microbes can literally make the nutrients they need for growth out of thin air, or at least from dissolved nitrogen gas. They play an essential role in subtropical ocean gyres providing a source of nitrogen in the otherwise nutrient-poor surface waters. The nitrogen fixation rates and diazotroph cell counts are being used to study the environmental conditions that determine nitrogen fixation and diazotroph community structure.
Working with more than 45 other scientists from WHOI and around the world, Luo and Doney built the first-ever global dataset on nitrogen-fixers by collecting data from historical scientific literature and existing databases. The past decade has seen a virtual explosion in new ocean field data on marine nitrogen-fixers spanning a wide range of taxonomic groups including free-living cells and filamentous organisms as well as symbiotic organisms that live inside other plankton. Luo and Doney study ocean microbes as part of the Center for Microbial Oceanography, Research, and Education (C-MORE), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center based at the University of Hawaii.
The first edition of the MAREDAT global plankton atlas took three years to compile and combines information from half a million data points. The data will have a wide-range of application across ocean and climate science including helping scientists create computer models to predict the impact of climate change and ocean acidification.
The authors hope that the MAREDAT atlas will be a starting point to expand from and will help serve under-sampled regions, such as the South Pacific and parts of the Southern Ocean. The MAREDAT global atlas
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