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Bacterial size and morphology are controlled by several factors including predation, viral lysis, UV radiation, and inorganic nutrients. We observed that bacterial biovolume from the hypolimnion of two oligotrophic lakes is larger than that of bacteria living in the layer from surface to 20 m, roughly corresponding to the euphotic/epilimnetic zone. One lake is located in the temperate region at low altitude (Lake Maggiore, Northern Italy) and the other in the tropical region at high altitude (Lake Alchichica, Mexico). The two lakes differ in oxygen, phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations and in the temperature of water column. If we consider the two lakes separately, we risk reducing the explanation of bacterial size variation in the water column to merely regional factors. Comparing the two lakes, can we gather a more general explanation for bacterial biovolume variation. The results showed that small bacteria dominate in the oxygenated, P-limited epilimnetic waters of both lakes, whereas larger cells are more typical of hypolimnetic waters where phosphorus and nitrogen are not limiting. Indeed, temperature per se cannot be invoked as an important factor explaining the different bacterial size in the two zones. Without excluding the top-down control mechanism of bacterial size, our data suggest that the average lower size of bacterial cells in the epilimnion of oligotrophic lakes is controlled by outcompetition over the larger cells at limiting nutrients.
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