Upper Arctic Ocean water masses harbor distinct communities of heterotrophic flagellates
The ubiquity of heterotrophic flagellates (HFL) in marine waters has been recognized for several decades, but the phylogenetic diversity of these small (ca. 0.8–20 μm cell diameter), mostly phagotrophic protists in the upper pelagic zone of the ocean is underappreciated. Community composition of microbes, including HFL, is the result of past and current environmental selection, and different taxa may be indicative of food webs that cycle carbon and energy very differently. While all oceanic water columns can be density stratified due to the temperature and salinity characteristics of different water masses, the Arctic Ocean is particularly well stratified, with nutrients often limiting in surface waters and most photosynthetic biomass confined to a subsurface chlorophyll maximum layer, where light and nutrients are both available. This physically well-characterized system provided an opportunity to explore the community diversity of HFL from different water masses within the water column. We used high-throughput DNA sequencing techniques as a rapid means of surveying the diversity of HFL communities in the southern Beaufort Sea (Canada), targeting the surface, the subsurface chlorophyll maximum layer (SCM) and just below the SCM. In addition to identifying major clades and their distribution, we explored the micro-diversity within the globally significant but uncultivated clade of marine stramenopiles (MAST-1) to examine the possibility of niche differentiation within the stratified water column. Our results strongly suggested that HFL community composition was determined by water mass rather than geographical location across the Beaufort Sea. Future work should focus on the biogeochemical and ecological repercussions of different HFL communities in the face of climate-driven changes to the physical structure of the Arctic Ocean.