Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 20, pp 19779–19789 | Cite as

In-depth molecular characterization and biodegradability of water-extractable organic nitrogen in Erhai Lake sediment

  • Li Zhang
  • Shengrui WangEmail author
  • Jiachun Yang
  • Kechen Xu
Research Article


Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) constitutes a significant fraction of the total dissolved nitrogen content of most aquatic systems and is thus a major nitrogen source for bacteria and phytoplankton. The present work applied Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) to a compound-level analysis of the depth-dependent molecular composition of water-extractable organic nitrogen (WEON) in lake sediment. The study focused on Erhai Lake, China. It was found that a large portion (from 16.33 ± 7.87 to 39.54 ± 5.77%) of the WEON in the lake sediment was reactive under cultivation by algal or bacteria. The WEON in the mid-region of Erhai sediment particularly exhibited a lower bioavailability, having been less affected by the basin environment. The FT-ICR MS results revealed the presence of thousands of compounds in the Erhai Lake sediment samples collected at different depths, with the N-containing compounds accounting for 28.3–34.4% of all the compounds. The WEON molecular weight was also observed to increase with increasing sediment depth. A van Krevelen diagram showed that the lignin-type components were dominant (~ 56.2%) in the sediment WEON, contributing to its stabilization and reducing the risk of sediment nutrient release. The FT-ICR MS results further revealed 204 overlapping formulas of WEON for each core sediment sample, attributable to the presence of refractory components. It was observed that 78.4% of the formulas were within the lignin-like region, suggesting unique allochthonous DON sources. The aliphatic component proportion of all the unique formulas was also found to increase with increasing sediment depth. This indicates that, with the development and evolution of the Erhai Basin, the more labile WEON components were transformed into more stable lignin-like substrates, with a positive effect on the Lake Erhai ecosystem.

Graphical abstract


Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance Sediment Water-extractable organic nitrogen Molecular-level characterization Bioavailability 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41503113).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Li Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shengrui Wang
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Jiachun Yang
    • 1
  • Kechen Xu
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Engineering Research Center of BeijingBeijing University of TechnologyBeijingChina
  2. 2.State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory for Lake Pollution Control, Research Center of Lake Eco-environmentChinese Research Academy of Environmental SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.College of Water SciencesBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.National Engineering Laboratory for Advanced Municipal Wastewater Treatment and Reuse Technology, Key Laboratory of Beijing for Water Quality Science and Water Environment Recovery EngineeringBeijing University of TechnologyBeijingChina

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