Urea degradation by picophytoplankton in the euphotic zone of Lake Biwa
Mitamura, O.; Kawashima, M.; Maeda, H.
Limnology 1(1): 19-26
The ability of photoautotrophic picoplankton Synechococcus to degrade urea was examined in the euphotic zone of Lake Biwa. Samples were divided into pico (0.2-2.0 mum) and larger (> 2.0 mum) size fractions by filtration. The rates of urea degradation (the sum of the rates of incorporation of carbon into phytoplankton cells and of liberation of CO2 into water) measured by radiocarbon urea were 8 and 17 mumol urea m-3 day-1 in June and July, respectively, for the picophytoplankton in the surface water, and 196 and 96 mumol urea m-3 day-1, respectively for the larger phytoplankton. The rates decreased with depth, somewhat similar to the vertical profiles of the photosynthetic rate. The urea degradation rates were obviously high under light conditions. In daylight, urea was degraded into two phases, carbon incorporation and CO2 liberation, whereas in the dark it was degraded only into the CO2 liberation phase. The contribution of picophytoplankton to total phytoplankton in urea degradation was high in the subsurface to lower euphotic layer. Urea degradation activity was higher in the picophytoplankton fraction than in the larger phytoplankton fraction. Shorter residence times of urea were obtained in the upper euphotic zone. The contribution of picophytoplankton to urea cycling was 4% to 35%. The present results suggest that the picophytoplankton Synechococcus is able to degrade urea and effectively makes use of regenerated urea as a nitrogen source in the euphotic layer, and that picophytoplankton play an important role in the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle in Lake Biwa.