Distinct bacterial-production–DOC–primary-production relationships and implications for biogenic C cycling in the South China Sea shelf
Based on two summer spatio-temporal data sets obtained from the northern South China Sea shelf and basin, this study reveals contrasting relationships among bacterial production (BP), dissolved organic (DOC) and primary production (PP) in the transition zone from the neritic to the oceanic regions. Inside the mid-shelf (bottom depth <100 m), where inorganic nutrient supplies from river discharge and internal waves were potentially abundant, BP, DOC and PP were positively intercorrelated, whereas these three measurements became uncorrelated in the oligotrophic outer shelf and slope. We suggest that the availability of limiting minerals could affect the couplings/decouplings between the source (i.e. phytoplankton) and sink (i.e. bacteria) of organic carbon, and thus DOC dynamics. DOC turnover times were homogeneously low (37–60 days) inside the mid-shelf area and then increased significantly to values >100 days in the outer shelf, indicating that riverine (Pearl River) DOC might be more labile. The actual mechanism for this is unknown, but might relate to higher inorganic nutrient supply from river/terrestrial sources. The positive correlation of the BP / PP ratios vs. phosphate (and nitrate) concentrations in the inner shelf implies that if anthropogenic mineral loading keeps increasing in the foreseeable future, the near-shore zone may become more heterotrophic, rendering the system a stronger source of CO 2.