Nutrient-Replete Benthic Microalgae as a Source of Dissolved Organic Carbon to Coastal Waters
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- Porubsky, W.P., Velasquez, L.E. & Joye, S.B. Estuaries and Coasts (2008) 31: 860. doi:10.1007/s12237-008-9077-0
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Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) flux dynamics were examined in the context of other biogeochemical cycles in intertidal sediments inhabited by benthic microalgae. In August 2003, gross oxygenic photosynthetic (GOP) rates, oxygen penetration depths, and benthic flux rates were quantified at seven sites along the Duplin River, GA, USA. Sediments contained abundant benthic microalgal (BMA) biomass with a maximum chlorophyll a concentration of 201 mg chl a m−2. Oxygen microelectrodes were used to determine GOP rates and O2 penetration depth, which were tightly correlated with light intensity. Baseline and 15N-nitrate amended benthic flux core incubations were employed to quantify benthic fluxes and to investigate the impact of BMA on sediment water exchange under nitrogen (N)-limited and N-replete conditions. Unamended sediments exhibited tight coupling between GOP and respiration and served as a sink for water column dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and a source of silicate and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). The BMA response to the N addition indicated sequential nutrient limitation, with N limitation followed by silicate limitation. In diel (light–dark) incubations, biological assimilation accounted for 83% to 150% of the nitrate uptake, while denitrification (DNF) and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) accounted for <7%; in contrast, under dark conditions, DNF and DNRA accounted for >40% of the NO3− uptake. The N addition shifted the metabolic status of the sediments from a balance of autotrophy and heterotrophy to net autotrophy under diel conditions, and the sediments served as a sink for water column DIN, silicate, and DIC but became a source of DOC, suggesting that the increased BMA production was decoupled from sediment bacterial consumption of DOC.