Research Topic

Physiological and molecular ecology of aquatic cyanobacteria

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The cyanobacteria inhabit every illuminated environment on Earth, from polar lakes to desert crusts and through their phototrophic metabolism play essential roles in global geochemical cycles. With the discovery of marine Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus approximately 25 years ago, ...

The cyanobacteria inhabit every illuminated environment on Earth, from polar lakes to desert crusts and through their phototrophic metabolism play essential roles in global geochemical cycles. With the discovery of marine Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus approximately 25 years ago, cyanobacteria have now earned their place as dominant primary producers contributing over 25 percent of global photosynthesis. Their global abundance is now explained from the coexistence of ecotypes that occupy different niches along spatial and temporal gradients. New ecotypes of Synechococcus have been identified as abundant components of microbial communities in freshwater environments and marginal seas. Extensive comparative genomics of marine and freshwater picocyanobacteria have begun to unmask adaptations to light and nutrient (N, P, Fe) limitation that these diverse environments present. Novel types of cyanobacterial diazotrophy input new N and structure microbial communities in the open sea. Current challenges include the understanding of the interactions between marine cyanobacteria and other microbes in their immediate community. A recent example is formed by heterotrophic bacteria that play a key role in protecting picocyanobacteria from photooxidative damage in surface waters. Other microbial food web interactions, like the relationship to protist grazers, coexistence of different N guilds, allelophatic effects, complex interactions with cyanophages etc. are subjects of current interest.

In contrast, mesotrophic and eutrophic environments such as the Baltic Sea and lower Laurentian Great Lakes have been increasingly affected by nuisance and toxic cyanobacterial blooms that have yielded severe declines in water quality. Factors promoting bloom formation and the functional roles of toxins are important issues being addressed today. Potential affects of toxins (e.g. BMAA) on human health are of emerging interest.

This collection of papers is designed to highlight the ecological roles played by cyanobacteria, focusing primarily on their adaptations that allow their dominance and niche differentiation in diverse aquatic environments. These issues are particularly important as we face global environmental alterations that influence aquatic habitats through climate change, ocean acidification and nutrient inputs leading to anoxic dead zones. Manuscripts that incorporate such issues are particularly welcomed.


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