Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Frontiers in Microbiology




Article #160




The Ross Sea is home to some of the largest phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean. Primary production in this system has previously been shown to be iron limited in the summer and periodically iron and vitamin B-12 colimited. In this study, we examined trace metal limitation of biological activity in the Ross Sea in the austral spring and considered possible implications for vitamin B-12 nutrition. Bottle incubation experiments demonstrated that iron limited phytoplankton growth in the austral spring while B-12, cobalt, and zinc did not. This is the first demonstration of iron limitation in a Phaeocystis antarctica-dominated, early season Ross Sea phytoplankton community. The lack of B-12 limitation in this location is consistent with previous Ross Sea studies in the austral summer, wherein vitamin additions did not stimulate P antarctica growth and B-12 was limiting only when bacterial abundance was low. Bottle incubation experiments and a bacterial regrowth experiment also revealed that iron addition directly enhanced bacterial growth. B-12 uptake measurements in natural water samples and in an iron fertilized bottle incubation demonstrated that bacteria serve not only as a source for vitamin B-12, but also as a significant sink, and that iron additions enhanced B-12 uptake rates in phytoplankton but not bacteria. Additionally, vitamin uptake rates did not become saturated upon the addition of up to 95 pM B-12. A rapid B-12 uptake rate was observed after 13 min, which then decreased to a slower constant uptake rate over the next 52 h. Results from this study highlight the importance of iron availability in limiting early season Ross Sea phytoplankton growth and suggest that rates of vitamin B-12 production and consumption may be impacted by iron availability.

Original Publication Citation

Bertrand, E.M., Saito, M.A., Lee, P.A., Dunbar, R.B., Sedwick, P.N., & DiTullio, G.R. (2011). Iron limitation of a springtime bacterial and phytoplankton community in the ross sea: Implications for vitamin b-12 nutrition. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2011.00160