Viruses are generally considered an important agent of bacterial loss in diverse marine environments. However, the impact of viruses on bacteria is unknown in the western equatorial Pacific, where surface waters are warm and phytoplankton biomass is low (i.e., oligotrophic). Further, little is known about their importance in the mesopelagial, where bacteria and heterotrophic nanoflagellates are known to be metabolically active. To elucidate the ecological characteristics of viruses in the western equatorial Pacific, abundances of bacteria and viruses were measured, along with frequencies of visibly infected cells (FVIC) and frequencies of dividing cells (FDC) in epipelagic and mesopelagic samples at three stations near the equator from August to September 2002. Measurements of Secchi depth (20 m) and chlorophyll a concentrations (0.07– 0.4 µg chl a liter-1) indicated that the study area was oligotrophic during the investigation. FVIC ranged from 0.4% to 1.8% and 0.5% to 1.8% in the epipelagic and mesopelagic zones, respectively. Virally induced bacterial mortality was inferred to range from 4.5% to 20.8% in the epipelagic zone, suggesting that viruses contribute substantially to bacterial mortality in oligotrophic seawaters. In addition, these values were similar to those estimated for the mesopelagic zone (5.0%–21.2%). Overall, viruses appear to be an important factor in the loss of bacterial production in both oligotrophic epipelagic and mesopelagic zones in the study area.
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Vol. 64 • No. 2