Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 992–1005 | Cite as

Effects of Oxygen Loss on Carbon Processing and Heterotrophic Prokaryotes from an Estuarine Ecosystem: Results from Stable Isotope Probing and Cytometry Analyses

  • Rémy D. TadonlékéEmail author
  • Thomas Pollet
  • Pieter Van Rijswijk
  • Brigitte Leberre
  • Jack J. Middelburg


Many aquatic ecosystems are experiencing a decline in their oxygen (O2) content and this is predicted to continue. Implications of this change on several properties of bacterioplankton (heterotrophic prokaryotes) remain however are poorly known. In this study, oxic samples (∼170 μM O2 = controls) from an oligohaline region of the Scheldt Estuary were purged with N2 to yield low-O2 samples (∼69 μM O2 = treatments); all were amended with 13C-glucose and incubated in dark to examine carbon incorporation and cell size of heterotrophic prokaryotes, and relationships between organic matter (OM) degradation and phosphate (P) availability in waters following O2 loss. Stable isotope (13C) probing of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) and flow cytometry were used. In samples that have experienced O2 loss, PLFA biomass became higher, prokaryotic cells had significantly larger size and higher nucleic acid content, but P concentrations was lower, compared to controls. P concentration and OM degradation were positively related in controls, but uncoupled in low-O2 samples. Moreover, the dominant PLFA 16:1ω7c (likely mainly from Gram-negative bacteria) and the nucleic acid content of heterotrophic prokaryotic cells in low-O2 samples explained (62–72 %) differences between controls and low-O2 samples in P amounts. Shortly after incubations began, low-O2 samples had consistently lower bacterial PLFA 13C-enrichments, suggesting involvement of facultatively anaerobic metabolism in carbon incorporation, and supporting the view that this metabolic pathway is widespread among pelagic bacteria in coastal nutrient-rich ecosystems. Estimates based on 13C-enrichment of PLFAs indicated that grazing by protozoa on some bacteria was stronger in low-O2 samples than in controls, suggesting that the grazing pressure on some heterotrophic prokaryotes may increase at the onset of O2 deficiency in nutrient-rich aquatic systems. These findings also suggest that physiological responses of heterotrophic prokaryotes to O2 loss in such ecosystems include increases in cell activity, high carbon incorporation, and possibly phosphorus retention by cells that may contribute to reduce phosphate availability in waters.


Oxygen decline Carbon processing Heterotrophic prokaryotes Phosphorus availability Phospholipid fatty acids Stable isotope probing Flow cytometry 



R.D.T. was supported during his 3-month scientific visit at the Centre for Estuarine and Marine Ecology (Yerseke, The Netherlands) by funding from the Mission des Relations Internationales of INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France). He thanks Paul del Giorgio for hosting him at UQAM and providing him with a research facility. We also thank journal reviewers for their constructive comments which have helped improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

12237_2015_53_MOESM1_ESM.doc (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rémy D. Tadonléké
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Thomas Pollet
    • 1
  • Pieter Van Rijswijk
    • 2
  • Brigitte Leberre
    • 1
  • Jack J. Middelburg
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.INRA, UMR CARRTEL 042, F-74203Thonon-Les-BainsFrance
  2. 2.Department of Ecosystem StudiesNetherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)YersekeThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Faculty of GeosciencesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Département des Sciences BiologiquesUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada

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