Viruses are the most abundant biological entities in ecosystems at the global scale. The estimated overall abundance in the world’s oceans is on the order of 1030 (Suttle, 2005, 2007), a value that exceeds prokaryotic abundance (Karner et al. 2001; Whitman et al., 1998) by one order of magnitude and viral carbon is equivalent to the carbon in ~75 millions of blue whales (~10% of prokaryotic carbon by weight; Suttle et al. 2005). Studies conducted in the last two decades have made increasingly evident that marine viruses play critical roles in shaping aquatic communities and determining ecosystem dynamics (Bergh et al., 1989; Proctor & Fuhrman, 1990; Suttle, Chan & Cottrell, 1990).
My lab is interested in the dynamics of marine and estuarine viruses in relation to eubacteria, archaebacteria, and phytoplankton. In estuarine environments, this interest is focused specifically on understanding the function of the microbial loop in systems mostly dominated by phytoplankton production. However, these systems are the location of important bacteria, Vibrio sp., that are vital to the biogeochemistry of estuaries, but also represent an important group of potentially pathogenic organisms. Our studies include the ecology of Vibrios in estuarine systems, with a focus on understanding their dynamics over a wide range of meteorological conditions. This effort has produced, and will continue to produce, effective mechanistic and predictive models for the protection of public health.
Another important area of research is the deep sea. We are working with Italian colleagues Dr. Roberto Danovaro, Gian Marco Luna, Cinzia Corinaldesi, and Antonio Pusceddu, to understand the diversity of deep sea organisms. Importantly, our efforts permit us to understand the processes that are driving biogeochemical cycles in deep sea environments. We have been able, through this highly collaborative project, to understand that marine virusese in the deep ocean are much more important to the turnover of organic matter than previously suggeseted (Danovaro et. al. 2008), and that marine viruses have important impacts globally in controllling marine biodiversity at depth. This work provides vital information to be included in the creation of future accurate climate change models.