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Heterotrophic micro-organisms in the oceans
Wood, E.J.F. (1963). Heterotrophic micro-organisms in the oceans. Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. Ann. Rev. 1: 197-222
In: Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review. Aberdeen University Press/Allen & Unwin: London. ISSN 0078-3218, more
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Keyword
    Marine

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  • Wood, E.J.F.

Abstract
    The importance of bacteria in the cycle of life in the sea was adequately realized by Waksman and his co-workers (Waksman and Carey, 1935, and others) and by ZoBell (1946). For a long time, the greater part of the catabolic processes in the sea was attributed to the bacteria and, although their role must not be minimized, it has been found more recently that planktonic and benthic microscopic algae (such as diatoms), flagellates, fungi and yeasts have important roles as heterotrophs. These also will therefore be discussed in this review. Fungi, yeasts and viruses in the sea are now being studied intensively for the first time and the literature in this field is growing rapidly. Another important advance in marine microbiology has been made by Bernard (1948, 1963, and others), who has repeatedly found potentially photosynthetic micro-organisms (coccolithophores, dinoflagellates and blue-green algae) well below the photic zone (down to 4,000m), and other workers have (unpublished) evidence of the existence of such organisms at similar depths. Evidence is thus rapidly accumulating that the catabolic processes taking place in the sea are due to a wide variety of micro-organisms and that such organisms have a considerable horizontal and vertical distribution. This is important in that the 'potential energy' in the seas due to heterotrophy is likely to be much greater than was previously thought. If we consider the non-photosynthetic turn-over of organic matter as represented by a flywheel, photosynthetic processes supply the energy to keep the wheel rotating, but the ratio of necessary added energy to the total energy of the system is reduced as the mass of the wheel and rate of rotation are increased. Moreover, a heavier and more rapidly rotating flywheel makes for smoother running and less fluctuations of speed. Interpreting this analogy, the greater the biomass of heterotrophs, and the faster the heterotrophic turn-over of organic matter, the less significant become the depredations of man on the denizens of the sea, for the amount captured will bear only a small relation to the total plant and animal biomass. The microbes are the more important because they are small, have short lives and generation times, and a large surface-volume ratio, all of which make for a rapid turn-over. Moreover, the microbes do not require extensive supporting and translocating tissues, their metabolic processes being centralized to an extent unknown in larger plants.

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