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Stirred not mixed: How seawater turbulence affects marine food webs
Date:11/5/2012

New research shows that ocean turbulence directly affects the ability of microscopic marine organisms to recycle organic material back into the food web.

Results of the study are published in this week's issue of the journal Science.

Scientists John Taylor of Cambridge University and Roman Stocker at MIT found that there's a relationship between the natural movement of water in the ocean and the ability of marine bacteria to act as recyclers.

"The research provides a unique insight into how small organisms, such as bacteria, interact with their environment," says biological oceanographer David Garrison of the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.

"The results will lead to a better understanding of microbial dynamics and nutrient cycling in nature."

The movement of seawater--including small whirls and eddies--affects how marine bacteria absorb organic material, such as that produced by phytoplankton.

In the process of generating oxygen, phytoplankton produce waste matter in the form of organic material, some of which becomes dissolved in seawater.

This dissolved organic material is then absorbed by marine bacteria foraging for food. Bacteria are then consumed by larger organisms.

The organic waste material excreted by phytoplankton becomes part of the microbial loop - and contributes to the functioning of the marine food web.

Taylor's and Stocker's research revealed that a delicate balance exists between the extent of water turbulence and the recycling activity of bacteria--with high and low levels of turbulence linked to lower recycling rates.

Their study also looked at how the physical environment of the ocean might help to select the most successful types of marine bacteria, which compete for nutrients.

Some marine bacteria have evolved the ability to swim. Swimming bacteria, known as motile bacteria, ha
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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