Heterotrophic prokaryote distribution along a 2300 km transect in the North Pacific subtropical gyre during a strong La Niña conditions: relationship between distribution and hydrological conditions
Abstract. The spatial distribution of heterotrophic prokaryotes was investigated during the Tokyo–Palau cruise in the western part of the North Pacific subtropical gyre (NPSG) along a north–south transect between 33.60 and 13.25° N. The cruise was conducted in three different hydrological areas identified as the Kuroshio region, the subtropical gyre area and the transition zone. Two eddies were crossed along the transect: one cold-core cyclonic eddy and one warm-core anticyclonic eddy and distributions of the heterotrophic prokaryotes were recorded. By using analytical flow cytometry and a nucleic acid staining protocol, heterotrophic prokaryotes were discriminated into three subgroups depending on their nucleic acid content (low, high and very high nucleic acid contents labelled LNA, HNA and VHNA, respectively). Statistical analyses performed on the data set showed that LNA, mainly associated with low temperature and low salinity, were dominant in all the hydrological regions. In contrast, HNA distribution seemed to be associated with temperature, salinity, Chl a and silicic acid. A latitudinal increase in the HNA / LNA ratio was observed along the north–south transect and was related to higher phosphate and nitrate concentrations. However, the opposite relationship observed for the VHNA / HNA ratio suggested that the link between nucleic acid content and oligotrophic conditions is not linear, underlying the complexity of the biodiversity in the VHNA, HNA and LNA subgroups. In the Kuroshio Current, it is suggested that the high concentration of heterotrophic prokaryotes observed at station 4 was linked to the path of the cold cyclonic eddy core. In contrast, it is thought that low concentrations of heterotrophic prokaryotes in the warm core of the anticyclonic gyre (Sta. 9) are related to the low nutrient concentrations measured in the seawater column. Our results showed that the high variability between the various heterotrophic prokaryote cluster abundances depend both on the mesoscale structures and the oligotrophic gradient.