Factors controlling net ecosystem metabolism in U.S. estuaries
High frequency dissolved oxygen data were analyzed to calculate primary production, respiration and net ecosystem metabolism (NEM) from 42 sites within 22 National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR), 1995–2000. NERR sites are characterized by a variety of dominant plant communities including phytoplankton, salt marsh, seagrass, macroalgae, freshwater macrophyte, and mangrove, and are representative of the coastal bioregions of the United States. As expected from the wide diversity of sites, metabolic rates were temporally and spatially variable with the highest production and respiration occurring during the summer in Southeastern estuaries. Sites within different regions exhibited consistent seasonal trends in production, respiration, and NEM. Temperature was the most important environmental factor explaining within-site variation in metabolic rates; nutrient concentrations were the second most important factor. All but three of the 42 sites were heterotrophic (respiration was greater than production) on an annual basis. Habitat adjacent to the monitoring site, estuarine area, and salinity explained 58% of the variation in NEM. Open water sites or sites adjacent to mangroves or in marsh creeks were heterotrophic, while sites in or adjacent to submerged aquatic vegetation (eelgrass or macroalgal beds) were either autotrophic or near balance. Estuarine area was also a significant factor explaining variability in NEM; larger systems were closer to balance than smaller systems that trended toward heterotrophy. Freshwater sites were more heterotrophic than saline sites. Nutrient loading explained 68% of the variation in NEM among some of the sites. When these estimates were compared to the literature, metabolic rates from the NERR sites were much larger, often two to five times greater than rates from other estuarine and coastal systems. One explanation is that these small, generally shallow sites located near shore may have greater allochthonous organic inputs as well as significant benthic primary production than the large, deeper systems represented by the literature.
KeywordsRespiration Metabolic Rate Dissolve Inorganic Nitrogen Tidal Creek Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
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