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Front Microbiol. 2013 May 23;4:131. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00131. eCollection 2013.

Away from darkness: a review on the effects of solar radiation on heterotrophic bacterioplankton activity.

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Department of Marine Biology and Oceanography, Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC Barcelona, Spain ; Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québéc à Montréal Montréal, QC, Canada.


Heterotrophic bacterioplankton are main consumers of dissolved organic matter (OM) in aquatic ecosystems, including the sunlit upper layers of the ocean and freshwater bodies. Their well-known sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), together with some recently discovered mechanisms bacteria have evolved to benefit from photosynthetically available radiation (PAR), suggest that natural sunlight plays a relevant, yet difficult to predict role in modulating bacterial biogeochemical functions in aquatic ecosystems. Three decades of experimental work assessing the effects of sunlight on natural bacterial heterotrophic activity reveal responses ranging from high stimulation to total inhibition. In this review, we compile the existing studies on the topic and discuss the potential causes underlying these contrasting results, with special emphasis on the largely overlooked influences of the community composition and the previous light exposure conditions, as well as the different temporal and spatial scales at which exposure to solar radiation fluctuates. These intricate sunlight-bacteria interactions have implications for our understanding of carbon fluxes in aquatic systems, yet further research is necessary before we can accurately evaluate or predict the consequences of increasing surface UVR levels associated with global change.


aquatic ecosystems; bacterial heterotrophic activity; bacterioplankton community composition; light history; solar radiation

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