Multi-year dynamics of fine-scale marine cyanobacterial populations are more strongly explained by phage interactions than abiotic, bottom-up factors.


Currently defined ecotypes in marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus likely contain subpopulations that themselves are ecologically distinct. We developed and applied high-throughput sequencing for the 16S-23S rRNA internally transcribed spacer (ITS) to examine ecotype and fine-scale genotypic community dynamics for monthly surface water samples spanning 5 years at the San Pedro Ocean Time-series site. Ecotype-level structure displayed regular seasonal patterns including succession, consistent with strong forcing by seasonally varying abiotic parameters (e.g. temperature, nutrients, light). We identified tens to thousands of amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) within ecotypes, many of which exhibited distinct patterns over time, suggesting ecologically distinct populations within ecotypes. Community structure within some ecotypes exhibited regular, seasonal patterns, but not for others, indicating other more irregular processes such as phage interactions are important. Network analysis including T4-like phage genotypic data revealed distinct viral variants correlated with different groups of cyanobacterial ASVs including time-lagged predator-prey relationships. Variation partitioning analysis indicated that phage community structure more strongly explains cyanobacterial community structure at the ASV level than the abiotic environmental factors. These results support a hierarchical model whereby abiotic environmental factors more strongly shape niche partitioning at the broader ecotype level while phage interactions are more important in shaping community structure of fine-scale variants within ecotypes.

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