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Symbiotic unicellular cyanobacteria fix nitrogen in the Arctic Ocean


Biological dinitrogen (N2) fixation is an important source of nitrogen (N) in low-latitude open oceans. The unusual N2-fixing unicellular cyanobacteria (UCYN-A)/haptophyte symbiosis has been found in an increasing number of unexpected environments, including northern waters of the Danish Straight and Bering and Chukchi Seas. We used nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS) to measure 15N2 uptake into UCYN-A/haptophyte symbiosis and found that UCYN-A strains identical to low-latitude strains are fixing N2 in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, at rates comparable to subtropical waters. These results show definitively that cyanobacterial N2 fixation is not constrained to subtropical waters, challenging paradigms and models of global N2 fixation. The Arctic is particularly sensitive to climate change, and N2 fixation may increase in Arctic waters under future climate scenarios.

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