Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 3, pp 341–353 | Cite as

Microbial activity and carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus content in a subtropical seagrass estuary (Florida Bay): evidence for limited bacterial use of seagrass production

  • Clayton J. Williams
  • Joseph N. Boyer
  • Frank J. JochemEmail author
Original Paper


Bacterial abundance, production, and extracellular enzyme activity were determined in the shallow water column, in the epiphytic community of Thalassiatestudinum, and at the sediment surface along with total carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in Florida Bay, a subtropical seagrass estuary. Data were statistically reduced by principle components analysis (PCA) and multidimensional scaling and related to T. testudinum leaf total phosphorus content and phytoplankton biomass. Each zone (i.e., pelagic, epiphytic, and surface sediment community) was significantly dissimilar to each other (Global R = 0.65). Pelagic aminopeptidase and sum of carbon hydrolytic enzyme (esterase, peptidase, and α- and β-glucosidase) activities ranged from 8 to 284 mg N m−2 day−1 and 113–1,671 mg C m−2 day−1, respectively, and were 1–3 orders of magnitude higher than epiphytic and sediment surface activities. Due to the phosphorus-limited nature of Florida Bay, alkaline phosphatase activity was similar between pelagic (51–710 mg P m−2 day−1) and sediment (77–224 mg P m−2 day−1) zones but lower in the epiphytes (1.1–5.2 mg P m−2 day−1). Total (and/or organic) C (111–311 g C m−2), N (9.4–27.2 g N m−2), and P (212–1,623 mg P m−2) content were the highest in the sediment surface and typically the lowest in the seagrass epiphytes, ranging from 0.6 to 8.7 g C m−2, 0.02–0.99 g N m−2, and 0.5–43.5 mg P m−2. Unlike nutrient content and enzyme activities, bacterial production was highest in the epiphytes (8.0–235.1 mg C m−2 day−1) and sediment surface (11.5–233.2 mg C m−2 day−1) and low in the water column (1.6–85.6 mg C m−2 day−1). At an assumed 50% bacterial growth efficiency, for example, extracellular enzyme hydrolysis could supply 1.8 and 69% of epiphytic and sediment bacteria carbon demand, respectively, while pelagic bacteria could fulfill their carbon demand completely by enzyme-hydrolyzable organic matter. Similarly, previously measured T. testudinum extracellular photosynthetic carbon exudation rates could not satisfy epiphytic and sediment surface bacterial carbon demand, suggesting that epiphytic algae and microphytobenthos might provide usable substrates to support high benthic bacterial production rates. PCA revealed that T. testudinum nutrient content was related positively to epiphytic nutrient content and carbon hydrolase activity in the sediment, but unrelated to pelagic variables. Phytoplankton biomass correlated positively with all pelagic components and sediment aminopeptidase activity but negatively with epiphytic alkaline phosphatase activity. In conclusion, seagrass production and nutrient content was unrelated to pelagic bacteria activity, but did influence extracellular enzyme hydrolysis at the sediment surface and in the epiphytes. This study suggests that seagrass-derived organic matter is of secondary importance in Florida Bay and that bacteria rely primarily on algal/cyanobacteria production. Pelagic bacteria seem coupled to phytoplankton, while the benthic community appears supported by epiphytic and/or microphytobenthos production.


Phytoplankton Biomass Extracellular Enzyme Activity Pelagic Zone Bacterial Growth Efficiency Carbon Demand 



We thank Jim W. Fourqurean, Evelyn E. Gaiser, and the FCE-LTER for providing unpublished Thalassiatestudinum shoot density data. We also thank the many undergraduate and graduate students who volunteered their time to provide field help. CNP analyses were made possible with the help of Florida International University (FIU)’s seagrass ecosystems laboratory. Field transportation was supported in part by FIU’s Marine Biology Program vehicle grant. This work was supported by NSF LTER under NSF grant 9910514 and NOAA COP grant NA04NOS4780020. This is contribution 409 of the Southeast Environmental Research Center at FIU. This study was written under the support of FIU’s Presidential Dissertation Year Fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clayton J. Williams
    • 1
  • Joseph N. Boyer
    • 2
  • Frank J. Jochem
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Marine Biology ProgramFlorida International UniversityNorth MiamiUSA
  2. 2.Southeast Environmental Research CenterFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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