A sea of microbes: the diversity and activity of marine microorganisms

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Journal Article
Microbiology Australia, 2014, 35 (4), pp. 183 - 183
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Covering 70% of the earth’s surface, with an average depth of 3.6 km, the ocean’s total volume of 1.3 billion cubic kilometres represents perhaps the largest inhabitable space in the biosphere. Within this vast ecosystem, 90% of all living biomass is microbial. Indeed, seawater from all marine environments, ranging from the warm and sunlit upper ocean to the cold, dark and anoxic deep sea floor, and from the tropics to the arctic, is teeming with microbial life. A single teaspoon of seawater typically contains over 50 million viruses, 5 million Bacteria, 100,000 Archaea and 50,000 eukaryotic microbes. The numerical importance of these microbes is matched only by their ecological and biogeochemical significance. By performing the bulk of oceanic primary production and mediating key chemical transformation processes, planktonic microbes form the base of the marine food-web and are the engines that drive the ocean’s major biogeochemical cycles (Figure 1). While marine microbes are the dominant biological feature throughout the entire water column and within ocean sediments, as well as being important symbionts and pathogens of marine animals and plants, this review will focus on the activity and diversity of microbes inhabiting seawater in the upper sun-lit depths of the global ocean.
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