Project Details


Processes that either promote growth or cause mortality drive the abundance of all organisms. For microbes such as phytoplankton, that have a lifespan measured in hours to days, small changes in these processes can have significant impacts. Phytoplankton are the central currency in the flow of material and nutrients throughout the marine environment. Even small shifts in their growth and mortality rates will have large-scale implications for ecosystem structure and biogeochemical cycling. While factors that influence growth are often examined, less is known regarding the regulation of phytoplankton mortality. This project will focus on quantifying competing modes of mortality on the bloom-forming coccolithophore, Emiliania huxleyi, a globally important phytoplankton species that contributes significantly to ocean carbon and sulfur cycles. Mortality due to grazing by single-celled microzooplankton is the largest contributor to phytoplankton loss in the marine environment. However, E. huxleyi also has a well-characterized relationship with a virus that can result in mass mortality. Therefore, E. huxleyi serves as a good model organism for examining how mortality is partitioned between grazing by microzooplankton predators and lysis due to viral infection. Quantifying these mortality mechanisms will help to inform mathematical models for the accurate prediction of shifts in E. huxleyi population dynamics and ultimately, primary production and biogeochemical cycling. This work will involve collaboration with a high school science teacher in a school system with a large proportion of students from underrepresented groups, in the creation and implementation of short film clips that depict important ecological interactions. These film clips will then be incorporated into laboratory activities to communicate these concepts to students. Further, undergraduate students from underrepresented groups will be trained at both Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Rutgers University, to perform laboratory research on mortality processes on phytoplankton. This research will also provide training and career development for a postdoctoral scientist.Mortality mechanisms in phytoplankton have generally been studied independent from one another, however in nature, these processes act concurrently. The relative proportion that microzooplankton grazing and viral lysis contribute to overall E. huxleyi loss and how they may interact to shape bloom dynamics is largely unknown. Understanding the relative importance of these processes, as well as their interaction, is critical due to their contrasting influence on the structure and function of marine food webs and biogeochemical cycles. While grazing tends to channel phytoplankton biomass to higher trophic levels, viral lysis stimulates microbial loop activity and vertical particle export flux. This research will determine the effect of one mortality process on the other, as well as their net effect on E. huxleyi population dynamics and export in both laboratory and field mesocosm experiments. This integrated approach will provide a unique mechanistic perspective of multi-trophic microbial interactions, thereby increasing the potential for accurate predictions of E. huxleyi population dynamics and biogeochemical cycling. The outcomes of this research have the potential to yield broadly applicable insights into how microbial interactions can drive ecological and biogeochemical dynamics in the marine environment.
Effective start/end date5/1/154/30/18


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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