Phytoplankton Surveys in the Arctic Fram Strait Demonstrate the Tiny Eukaryotic Alga Micromonas and Other Picoprasinophytes Contribute to Deep Sea Export

Charles Bachy, Lisa Sudek, Chang Jae Choi, Charlotte A. Eckmann, Eva-Maria Nöthig, Katja Metfies and Alexandra Z. Worden

Critical questions exist regarding the abundance and, especially, the export of picophytoplankton (≤2 µm diameter) in the Arctic. These organisms can dominate chlorophyll concentrations in Arctic regions, which are subject to rapid change. The picoeukaryotic prasinophyte Micromonas grows in polar environments and appears to constitute a large, but variable, proportion of the phytoplankton in these waters. Here, we analyze 81 samples from the upper 100 m of the water column from the Fram Strait collected over multiple years (2009–2015). We also analyze sediment trap samples to examine picophytoplankton contributions to export, using both 18S rRNA gene qPCR and V1-V2 16S rRNA Illumina amplicon sequencing to assess the Micromonas abundance within the broader diversity of photosynthetic eukaryotes based on the phylogenetic placement of plastid-derived 16S amplicons. The material sequenced from the sediment traps in July and September 2010 showed that 11.2 ± 12.4% of plastid-derived amplicons are from picoplanktonic prasinophyte algae and other green lineage (Viridiplantae) members. In the traps, Micromonas dominated (83.6% ± 21.3%) in terms of the overall relative abundance of Viridiplantae amplicons, specifically the species Micromonas polaris. Temporal variations in Micromonas abundances quantified by qPCR were also observed, with higher abundances in the late-July traps and deeper traps. In the photic zone samples, four prasinophyte classes were detected in the amplicon data, with Micromonas again being the dominant prasinophyte, based on the relative abundance (89.4% ± 8.0%), but with two species (M. polaris and M. commoda-like) present. The quantitative PCR assessments showed that the photic zone samples with higher Micromonasabundances (>1000 gene copies per mL) had significantly lower standing stocks of phosphate and nitrate, and a shallower average depth (20 m) than those with fewer Micromonas. This study shows that despite their size, prasinophyte picophytoplankton are exported to the deep sea, and that Micromonas is particularly important within this size fraction in Arctic marine ecosystems.