Marine viruses are critical drivers of ocean biogeochemistry, and their abundances vary spatiotemporally in the global oceans, with upper estimates exceeding 108 per ml. Over many years, a consensus has emerged that virus abundances are typically tenfold higher than microbial cell abundances. However, the true explanatory power of a linear relationship and its robustness across diverse ocean environments is unclear. Here, we compile 5,508 microbial cell and virus abundance estimates from 22 distinct marine surveys and find substantial variation in the virus-to-microbial cell ratio, in which a 10:1 model has either limited or no explanatory power. Instead, virus abundances are better described as nonlinear, power-law functions of microbial cell abundances. The fitted scaling exponents are typically less than 1, implying that the virus-to-microbial cell ratio decreases with microbial cell density, rather than remaining fixed. The observed scaling also implies that viral effect sizes derived from ‘representative’ abundances require substantial refinement to be extrapolated to regional or global scales.
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This work was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) grants OCE-1233760 (to J.S.W.) and OCE-1061352 (to A.B. and S.W.W.), a Career Award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (to J.S.W.) and a Simons Foundation SCOPE grant (to J.S.W.). This work was conducted as part of the Ocean Viral Dynamics Working Group at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, sponsored by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Wigington, C., Sonderegger, D., Brussaard, C. et al. Re-examination of the relationship between marine virus and microbial cell abundances. Nat Microbiol 1, 15024 (2016) doi:10.1038/nmicrobiol.2015.24
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