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Microbial Ecology of the Oceans

David L. Kirchman
University of Delaware, Lewes, Delaware

Cloth April 2000 560 pp. 0-471-29993-6

Paper April 2000 560 pp. 0-471-29992-8


This web page is designed to serve as an introduction to and companion for Microbial Ecology of the Oceans. To see what the book is all about, the reader can check out the Summary Points for each chapter. The rest of the material given here is not in the book and may be useful for novices to the field and instructors using the book for a class. Each chapter below has the following sections:

Review Questions: Starting points for class discussion or exams

Key references: An eclectic choice of references on the topics covered by each chapter

Supplementary Material: Color photographs and photomicrographs and expanded versions of tables for a few chapters

Corrections and additions: You don't agree with the chapter? Is it wrong or omits important topics? Here's where we will note any points of clarification, amplification and updates. Check out this section again in the near future as many topics covered by this book are developing quickly.

Readers are encouraged to send comments to In addition to hearing about specific problems with a chapter, general input and criticisms about the book are welcomed. Dr. Kirchman is especially interested in hearing about topics you think were not treated in sufficient detail or view points that were ignored.

Jon Zehr and Paul de Giorgio helped with suggesting discussion questions and references for this web page. The following authors contributed web material for their chapters: Barry and Ev Sherr, Dave Caron, Toshi Nagata, Frede Thingstad, and Hugh Ducklow.

Additional information about marine microbial ecology can be obtained at:


One of the most important findings in biological oceanography and aquatic ecology is that microbes, especially heterotrophic bacteria, are large and essential components of food webs and elemental cycles in the oceans and other aquatic systems. Although studies on microbes and microbial processes are well represented in several leading journals and a few symposium volumes, I felt that no book summarized the essentials of modern marine microbial ecology. Microbial Ecology of the Oceans is an attempt to correct this deficit.

Several chapters review selected topics in marine microbial ecology. But I want the book to be more than a collection of reviews. A reader new to the field should be able to pick up enough basics from this book to appreciate the importance of microbes in the oceans and to understand the questions that have been and are still being addressed by marine microbial ecologists. Some chapters were specifically designed to provide this basic information. Authors of all chapters were asked to write for a general audience even if space limitations meant that they could not cite every reference or cover all topics equally thoroughly.

I am particularly interested in hearing about areas of microbial ecology that are not adequately addressed in the book. E-mail can be sent directly to me at

Each chapter was reviewed by other chapter authors and colleagues not involved with the book. Although all the authors contributed to this review process, I thank especially Barry and Ev Sherr, Peter J. le B. Williams, and Hugh Ducklow for doing more than their share of the reviewing. The following colleagues also helped with looking at one or more chapters: Dave Karl, Niels Jørgensen, Steve Wilhelm, Mike Pace, and Lars Tranvik. The chapter authors and I thank them for their service. Matt Cottrell looked over several chapters and helped with mailing off nearly all of them to Wiley while I was in Germany. Ralph Mitchell provided encouragement and advice at critical times during the assembly of this book. Connie Edwards at the University of Delaware and Luna Han at Wiley patiently dealt with e-mails, snail mail, and faxes in moving manuscripts from various parts of world to New York via Germany.

I acknowledge the financial support of the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. The final stages of my work on the book were completed while I was a fellow at the Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg in Delmenhorst, Germany; I am most grateful for that fellowship. The Hedges, the Eglintons, other Hanse fellows, and my wife Ana Dittel did their best to distract me, but I thank them nevertheless.

David L. Kirchman
Lewes, Delaware

About the Author

Dave Kirchman was born and raised in De Pere, Wisconsin (near Green Bay) and received a B.A. in biology from Lawrence University in 1976. He then joined Ralph Mitchell's lab at Harvard University where he completed the Ph.D. degree in 1982. His Ph.D. was a eclectic mix of studies on the role of bacteria in inducing settlement and metamorphosis of invertebrates, bacterial activity on suspended detrital particles, and methods for measuring bacterial growth in aquatic habitats. He continued work on developing methods for measuring bacterial growth (the leucine method) during a postdoc with Bob Hodson at the University of Georgia. During his stay at Georgia, he also collaborated with Pat Wheeler on examining inorganic nitrogen uptake by heterotrophic bacteria. After a short postdoc at the University of Chicago, he joined the College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware in 1986. He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1992 and was named the Harrington Professor of Marine Studies in 1998.

When he arrived at Delaware, Kirchman continued to work on inorganic nitrogen fluxes and on the regulation of bacterial growth in the oceans. Both topics pushed him in the direction of examining the uptake of selected organic compounds in the Delaware estuary and in open oceans. Kirchman and his colleagues also have worked on how one marine bacterium, Vibrio harveyi, attaches to and degrades chitin, an abundant biopolymer in the oceans. His current research topics include examining the role of specific bacterial groups in use of dissolved organic material, as revealed by molecular tools.

In addition to serving on several editorial boards, Kirchman was an associate editor and Editor-in-Chief at Limnology and Oceanography from 1990-1998. Other notable service roles includes a stint as Program Director in the Marine Biology-Biochemistry program in the College of Marine Studies.

More information about Kirchman can be found at

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