A new study co-authored by professor Kam Tang of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reveals that tiny aquatic organisms known as "water fleas" play an important role in carrying hitchhiking bacteria to otherwise inaccessible lake and ocean habitats.
The article, "Bacteria dispersal by hitchhiking on zooplankton," appeared in the June 29 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was co-authored by scientists from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Stechlin, Germany.
Bacteria and other microorganisms are key components of aquatic ecosystems, nurturing the base of the food web and recycling organic matter into carbon, nitrogen, and other elemental constituents of global biogeochemical cycles. Some, like Vibrio, can cause disease. Vibrio is responsible for cholera and other water- and shellfish-borne illnesses.
Aquatic microbes are also some of the most abundant, widespread, and diverse organisms on Earth. Scientists estimate that a single tablespoon of seawater holds 5 million marine bacteria, and that a liter can hold tens of thousands of microbial species. Aquatic microbes occur from the deep seafloor to polar lakes, and pretty much everywhere in between.