Nitrogen fixation rates in algal turf communities of a degraded versus less degraded coral reef
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- den Haan, J., Visser, P.M., Ganase, A.E. et al. Coral Reefs (2014) 33: 1003. doi:10.1007/s00338-014-1207-5
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Algal turf communities are ubiquitous on coral reefs in the Caribbean and are often dominated by N2-fixing cyanobacteria. However, it is largely unknown (1) how much N2 is actually fixed by turf communities and (2) which factors affect their N2 fixation rates. Therefore, we compared N2 fixation activity by turf communities at different depths and during day and night-time on a degraded versus a less degraded coral reef site on the island of Curaçao. N2 fixation rates measured with the acetylene reduction assay were slightly higher in shallow (5–10-m depth) than in deep turf communities (30-m depth), and N2 fixation rates during the daytime significantly exceeded those during the night. N2 fixation rates by the turf communities did not differ between the degraded and less degraded reef. Both our study and a literature survey of earlier studies indicated that turf communities tend to have lower N2 fixation rates than cyanobacterial mats. However, at least in our study area, turf communities were more abundant than cyanobacterial mats. Our results therefore suggest that turf communities play an important role in the nitrogen cycle of coral reefs. N2 fixation by turfs may contribute to an undesirable positive feedback that promotes the proliferation of algal turf communities while accelerating coral reef degradation.