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Unusual marine cyanobacteria/haptophyte symbiosis relies on N2 fixation even in N-rich environments.

Abstract

The microbial fixation of N2 is the largest source of biologically available nitrogen (N) to the oceans. However, it is the most energetically expensive N-acquisition process and is believed inhibited when less energetically expensive forms, like dissolved inorganic N (DIN), are available. Curiously, the cosmopolitan N2-fixing UCYN-A/haptophyte symbiosis grows in DIN-replete waters, but the sensitivity of their N2 fixation to DIN is unknown. We used stable isotope incubations, catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in-situ hybridization (CARD-FISH), and nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS), to investigate the N source used by the haptophyte host and sensitivity of UCYN-A N2 fixation in DIN-replete waters. We demonstrate that under our experimental conditions, the haptophyte hosts of two UCYN-A sublineages do not assimilate nitrate (NO3-) and meet little of their N demands via ammonium (NH4+) uptake. Instead the UCYN-A/haptophyte symbiosis relies on UCYN-A N2 fixation to supply large portions of the haptophyte's N requirements, even under DIN-replete conditions. Furthermore, UCYN-A N2 fixation rates, and haptophyte host carbon fixation rates, were at times stimulated by NO3- additions in N-limited waters suggesting a link between the activities of the bulk phytoplankton assemblage and the UCYN-A/haptophyte symbiosis. The results suggest N2 fixation may be an evolutionarily viable strategy for diazotroph-eukaryote symbioses, even in N-rich coastal or high latitude waters.

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