Coral Reefs

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 1003–1015 | Cite as

Nitrogen fixation rates in algal turf communities of a degraded versus less degraded coral reef

  • Joost den Haan
  • Petra M. Visser
  • Anjani E. Ganase
  • Elfi E. Gooren
  • Lucas J. Stal
  • Fleur C. van Duyl
  • Mark J. A. Vermeij
  • Jef Huisman


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.


Algal turf Benthic cyanobacteria Coral reefs Nitrogen cycle N2 fixation 



We thank the reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript. We are most grateful to Hannah Brocke of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology for her help with the field incubations, Verena Brauer and Pieter Slot of the University of Amsterdam for their help with the gas chromatographic analyses, and Jan van Ooijen of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) for the nutrient analyses. This research was funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (P7/2007–2013) under Grant Agreement No. 244161 (Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment), and the Schure-Beijerinck-Popping Fund (SBK/JK 2011-31 KNAW, the Netherlands).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 33 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joost den Haan
    • 1
  • Petra M. Visser
    • 1
  • Anjani E. Ganase
    • 1
    • 6
  • Elfi E. Gooren
    • 2
  • Lucas J. Stal
    • 1
    • 3
  • Fleur C. van Duyl
    • 4
  • Mark J. A. Vermeij
    • 1
    • 5
  • Jef Huisman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of MicrobiologyRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Marine MicrobiologyRoyal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)YersekeThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of Biological OceanographyRoyal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)Den BurgThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Carmabi FoundationWillemstadCuraçao
  6. 6.Coral Reef Ecosystems Lab, School of Biological SciencesThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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