Cyanophage abundance has been shown to fluctuate over long timescales and with depth, but little is known about how it varies over short timescales. Previous short-term studies have relied on counting total virus numbers and therefore the phages which infect cyanobacteria cannot be distinguished from the total count.
In this study, an isolation-based approach was used to determine cyanophage abundance from water samples collected over a depth profile for a 24 h period from the Indian Ocean. Samples were used to infect Synechococcus sp. WH7803 and the number of plaque forming units (pfu) at each time point and depth were counted. At 10 m phage numbers were similar for most time-points, but there was a distinct peak in abundance at 0100 hours. Phage numbers were lower at 25 m and 50 m and did not show such strong temporal variation. No phages were found below this depth. Therefore, we conclude that only the abundance of phages in surface waters showed a clear temporal pattern over a short timescale. Fifty phages from a range of depths and time points were isolated and purified. The molecular diversity of these phages was estimated using a section of the phage-encoded psbD gene and the results from a phylogenetic analysis do not suggest that phages from the deeper waters form a distinct subgroup.