The Effects of Nutrient Imbalances and Temperature on the Biomass Stoichiometry of Freshwater Bacteria

Katherine N. Phillips, Casey M. Godwin, James B. Cotner

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13 Scopus citations


Two contemporary effects of humans on aquatic ecosystems are increasing temperatures and increasing nutrient concentrations from fertilizers. The response of organisms to these perturbations has important implications for ecosystem processes. We examined the effects of phosphorus (P) supply and temperature on organismal carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus (C, N, and P) content, cell size and allocation into internal P pools in three strains of recently isolated bacteria (Agrobacterium sp., Flavobacterium sp., and Arthrobacter sp.). We manipulated resource C:P in chemostats and also manipulated temperatures from 10 to 30°C. Dilution rates were maintained for all the strains at ~25% of their temperature-specific maximum growth rate to simulate low growth rates in natural systems. Under these conditions, there were large effects of resource stoichiometry and temperature on biomass stoichiometry, element quotas, and cell size. Each strain was smaller when C-limited and larger when P-limited. Temperature had weak effects on morphology, little effect on C quotas, no effect on N quotas and biomass C:N, but had strong effects on P quotas, biomass N:P and C:P, and RNA. RNA content per cell increased with increasing temperature at most C:P supply ratios, but was more strongly affected by resource stoichiometry than temperature. Because we used a uniform relative growth rate across temperatures, these findings mean that there are important nutrient and temperature affects on biomass composition and stoichiometry that are independent of growth rate. Changes in biomass stoichiometry with temperature were greatest at low P availability, suggesting tighter coupling between temperature and biomass stoichiometry in oligotrophic ecosystems than in eutrophic systems. Because the C:P stoichiometry of biomass affects how bacteria assimilate and remineralize C, increased P availability could disrupt a negative feedback between biomass stoichiometry and C availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1692
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - Sep 8 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by NSF IGERT grant DGE-0504195 and NSF-IOS award 1257571 to JC.

Funding Information:
Our work was partially supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (DEB: 0519041). KP and CG were partially supported by a National Science Foundation IGERT grant (DGE: 0504195) and KP received additional support from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IREE Program).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Phillips, Godwin and Cotner.


  • Carbon
  • Morphology
  • Nitrogen
  • Nucleic acids
  • Phosphorus
  • Stoichiometry
  • Temperature


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