Iron and nitrogen nutrition of equatorial Pacific plankton

Neil M. Price, Lene F. Andersen, Francois M. M. Morel

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148 Scopus citations


In the equatorial Pacific Ocean between 9°N and 3°S, experiments were conducted to test the effects of iron addition on phytoplankton nitrogen metabolism, community structure and growth. Addition of 1 nM Fe to seawater samples increased the final concentration of chlorophyll a and particulate organic carbon and nitrogen in incubation bottles relative to the controls. The initial net rates of production were rapid, averaging 0.64 doublings day-1, and were unaffected by Fe enrichment. Ammonium was the major inorganic nitrogen source for the indigenous phytoplankton community, and little nitrate was taken up despite its high ambient concentration. Biomass-specific (N-specific) NO3- and NO2- uptake rates were enhanced two-fold following Fe addition, but NH4+ uptake rates were unaffected. In response to Fe enrichment, the phytoplankton community switched from using primarily NH4+ -nitrogen (regenerated production) for growth to NO3- -nitrogen (new production). This change in nitrogenous nutrition was accompanied by a shift in phytoplankton community composition. High ambient NH4+ concentrations (0.58 μM) at 3°S were sufficient to saturate uptake rates, but did not inhibit the enhancement of NO3- or NO2- utilization by Fe. Short-term 59Fe uptake rates of phytoplankton in the equatorial Pacific were similar to those of Fe-deficient phytoplankton cultures and exceeded by 40 times those of phytoplankton in Fe-rich coastal waters. These results indicate that in equatorial Pacific waters Fe is in short supply and limits the rate of NO3- and NO2- utilization, but does not severely limit the growth rate of the indigenous phytoplankton community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1361-1378
Number of pages18
JournalDeep Sea Research Part A, Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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