Oligotrophic waters of the Northwest Atlantic support taxonomically diverse diatom communities that are distinct from coastal waters

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Diatoms are important components of the marine food web and one of the most species-rich groups of phytoplankton. The diversity and composition of diatoms in eutrophic nearshore habitats have been well documented due to the outsized influence of diatoms on coastal ecosystem functioning. In contrast, patterns of both diatom diversity and community composition in offshore oligotrophic regions where diatom biomass is low have been poorly resolved. To compare the diatom diversity and community composition in oligotrophic and eutrophic waters, diatom communities were sampled along a 1,250 km transect from the oligotrophic Sargasso Sea to the coastal waters of the northeast US shelf. Diatom community composition was determined by amplifying and sequencing the 18S rDNA V4 region. Of the 301 amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) identified along the transect, the majority (70%) were sampled exclusively from oligotrophic waters of the Gulf Stream and Sargasso Sea and included the genera Bacteriastrum, Haslea, Hemiaulus, Pseudo-nitzschia, and Nitzschia. Diatom ASV richness did not vary along the transect, indicating that the oligotrophic Sargasso Sea and Gulf Stream are occupied by a diverse diatom community. Although ASV richness was similar between oligotrophic and coastal waters, diatom community composition in these regions differed significantly and was correlated with temperature and phosphate, two environmental variables known to influence diatom metabolism and geographic distribution. In sum, oligotrophic waters of the western North Atlantic harbor diverse diatom assemblages that are distinct from coastal regions, and these open ocean diatoms warrant additional study, as they may play critical roles in oligotrophic ecosystems.

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Journal of Phycology