Distribution and production of plankton communities in the subtropical convergence zone of the Sargasso Sea. I. Phytoplankton and bacterioplankton

Elevated levels of biomass and productivity are often associated with ocean frontal systems. The Subtropical Convergence Zone (STCZ) in the southern Sargasso Sea shows pronounced and stable thermal fronts, but little is known about the ecological consequences of these hydrographic features. With the aim of improving the understanding of physical and lower trophic level processes in the area, we carried out field studies of physical, chemical and biological characteristics along 3 transects crossing thermal fronts associated with the STCZ in March to April 2007. Thermal and chemical stratification were evident at all stations within the STCZ, and a depletion of nitrate was measured in the upper ~150 m. The phytoplankton biomass was dominated by Prochlorococcus spp. with highest abundance, up to >400 000 cells ml–1, at the chlorophyll a (chl a) maximum at 100 to 150 m depth. Synechococcus spp. were generally located higher in the water column. Picoalgae were less abundant, up to 8000 cells ml–1, but explained most of the variation in chl a. Even though diatoms and dinoflagellates were few, the biomass of larger phytoplankton equalled or exceeded that of picoplankton at a few stations. Bacterial biomass was roughly equal to half of the phytoplankton biomass. We did not find elevated levels of primary production or biomass of specific phytoplankton groups associated with the STCZ, probably due to a pronounced variability between stations along transects. Nevertheless, distinct increases in chl a were associated with the zone and thermal fronts bordering the STCZ.