, Volume 145, Issue 3, pp 315–335 | Cite as

Source of organic detritus and bivalve biomass influences nitrogen cycling and extracellular enzyme activity in estuary sediments

  • Josie CrawshawEmail author
  • Theresa O’Meara
  • Candida Savage
  • Blair Thomson
  • Federico Baltar
  • Simon F. Thrush


In aquatic ecosystems, natural processes that remove nitrogen from the biologically available pool (e.g. denitrification) have been intensively studied as an ecosystem function that reduces eutrophication. The quantity of sediment organic matter is a key driver of denitrification with percent organic content positively related to rates of nitrogen removal; however, few studies have investigated the influence of the quality of organic matter on nitrogen cycling in estuarine sediments despite shifts in primary producers with eutrophication. This laboratory study using intact benthic communities investigates the influence of various organic detritus sources, which vary in their C:N ratio, on nitrogen gas (N2) and solute fluxes and extracellular enzyme activity in estuarine sediments. A custom-built tank with a removable front plate was used with a planar optode film to image sediment oxygenation. Mangrove leaf detritus significantly increased the net N2 production in sediments, while the deposition of other detrital sources and control sediments produced net N2 consumption. Sulfatase activity was significantly reduced in the mangrove leaves and seagrass treatments, suggesting alteration of heterotrophic microbial activity with reducing oxygen conditions. Leucine aminopeptidase activity, indicating nitrogen cycling, was reduced in all treatments, suggesting the organic detritus provided a nitrogen supplement or reduced the activity of extracellular enzymes producing microbes. Bivalve biomass increased net nitrogen gas fluxes in some treatments. Our results indicate different detrital sources may have varying impacts on the removal of bioavailable nitrogen through denitrification and show that feedbacks in biogeochemical cycles may occur with changes in organic detrital source pools.


Denitrification Nitrogen fixation Organic detritus Extracellular enzyme activity Bioturbation Bivalve Planar optode Sediment 



The authors would like to thank K. Pearson and E. Murray for technical assistance through the duration of this experiment. We thank N. McHugh for analysing the dissolved nutrient samples. J. Crawshaw was supported by a PhD Scholarship from the University of Otago. This research was funded by the New Zealand Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge (Estuary Tipping Points 4.2.1). We thank the editor and three anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments that improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 247 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (EPS 34 kb)
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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine ScienceUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Bay of Plenty Regional Council Toi MoanaWhakataneNew Zealand
  3. 3.Institute of Marine ScienceUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  4. 4.Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre (SERC)EdgewaterUSA
  5. 5.School of Biological Sciences and Marine Research Institute (MaRE)University of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  6. 6.Department of Limnology and Bio-OceanographyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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