Expression of nifH in 28 surface water samples collected during fall 2007 from six stations in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands (north-east Atlantic) was examined using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)-based clone libraries and quantitative RT-PCR (RT-qPCR) analysis of seven diazotrophic phylotypes. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) rates and nutrient concentrations were determined for these stations, which were selected based on a range in surface chlorophyll concentrations to target a gradient of primary productivity. BNF rates greater than 6 nmolN l(-1) h(-1) were measured at two of the near-shore stations where high concentrations of Fe and PO(4)(3-) were also measured. Six hundred and five nifH transcripts were amplified by RT-PCR, of which 76% are described by six operational taxonomic units, including Trichodesmium and the uncultivated UCYN-A, and four non-cyanobacterial diazotrophs that clustered with uncultivated Proteobacteria. Although all five cyanobacterial phylotypes quantified in RT-qPCR assays were detected at different stations in this study, UCYN-A contributed most significantly to the pool of nifH transcripts in both coastal and oligotrophic waters. A comparison of results from RT-PCR clone libraries and RT-qPCR indicated that a gamma-proteobacterial phylotype was preferentially amplified in clone libraries, which underscores the need to use caution interpreting clone-library-based nifH studies, especially when considering the importance of uncultivated proteobacterial diazotrophs. The ISME Journal (2011) 5, 1201-1212; doi:10.1038/ismej.2010.205; published online 13 January 2011 Subject Category: microbial ecology and functional diversity of natural habitat
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