Dinoflagellates alter their carbon and nutrient metabolic strategies across environmental gradients in the central Pacific Ocean
Cohen NR, McIlvin MR, Moran DM, Held NA, Saunders JK, Hawco NJ, Brosnahan M, Ditullio GR, Lamborg C, McCrow JP, Dupont CL, Allen AE, Saito MA
Marine microeukaryotes play a fundamental role in biogeochemical cycling through the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels and vertical carbon transport. Despite their global importance, microeukaryote physiology, nutrient metabolism and contributions to carbon cycling across offshore ecosystems are poorly characterized. Here, we observed the prevalence of dinoflagellates along a 4,600-km meridional transect extending across the central Pacific Ocean, where oligotrophic gyres meet equatorial upwelling waters rich in macronutrients yet low in dissolved iron. A combined multi-omics and geochemical analysis provided a window into dinoflagellate metabolism across the transect, indicating a continuous taxonomic dinoflagellate community that shifted its functional transcriptome and proteome as it extended from the euphotic to the mesopelagic zone. In euphotic waters, multi-omics data suggested that a combination of trophic modes were utilized, while mesopelagic metabolism was marked by cytoskeletal investments and nutrient recycling. Rearrangement in nutrient metabolism was evident in response to variable nitrogen and iron regimes across the gradient, with no associated change in community assemblage. Total dinoflagellate proteins scaled with particulate carbon export, with both elevated in equatorial waters, suggesting a link between dinoflagellate abundance and total carbon flux. Dinoflagellates employ numerous metabolic strategies that enable broad occupation of central Pacific ecosystems and play a dual role in carbon transformation through both photosynthetic fixation in the euphotic zone and remineralization in the mesopelagic zone.