The ocean surface microlayer (SML), with physicochemical characteristics different from those of subsurface waters (SSW), results in dense and active viral and microbial communities that may favor virus–host interactions. Conversely, wind speed and/or UV radiation could adversely affect virus infection. Furthermore, in polar regions, organic and inorganic nutrient inputs from melting ice may increase microbial activity in the SML. Since the role of viruses in the microbial food web of the SML is poorly understood in polar oceans, we aimed to study the impact of viruses on prokaryotic communities in the SML and in the SSW in Arctic and Antarctic waters. We hypothesized that a higher viral activity in the SML than in the SSW in both polar systems would be observed. We measured viral and prokaryote abundances, virus-mediated mortality on prokaryotes, heterotrophic and phototrophic nanoflagellate abundance, and environmental factors. In both polar zones, we found small differences in environmental factors between the SML and the SSW. In contrast, despite the adverse effect of wind, viral and prokaryote abundances and virus-mediated mortality on prokaryotes were higher in the SML than in the SSW. As a consequence, the higher carbon flux released by lysed cells in the SML than in the SSW would increase the pool of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and be rapidly used by other prokaryotes to grow (the viral shunt). Thus, our results suggest that viral activity greatly contributes to the functioning of the microbial food web in the SML, which could influence the biogeochemical cycles of the water column.
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