Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 1824–1837 | Cite as

Spatial and Temporal Variability of Nitrification Potential and Ammonia-Oxidizer Abundances in Louisiana Salt Marshes

  • John M. MartonEmail author
  • Brian J. Roberts
  • Anne E. Bernhard
  • Anne E. Giblin


We quantified nitrification potential and ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) abundances in 13 salt marshes in three regions across southeast Louisiana (Terrebonne Bay, western and eastern regions of Barataria Bay). Seven marshes were oiled following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and six sites were unoiled marshes. We evaluated spatial variability by sampling transects from marsh edge to interior, as well as temporal variability across regions. Our nitrification potential rates (up to 5,499 nM NO3-N dry g−1 day−1) were much higher than other published rates for salt marshes and we found strong spatial patterns in both nitrification and soil properties. In Terrebonne soils, nitrification potentials peaked in July and increased from marsh edge to interior. Conversely, rates declined with distance from the marsh edge in western Barataria; no spatial patterns were apparent in eastern Barataria marshes. Spatial patterns corresponded to changes in relative elevation, which also influenced patterns of soil properties and ammonia-oxidizer abundances. Nitrification rates were significantly greater in July than September, though no differences were found between regions within either month. Nitrification potential was positively related to ammonia-oxidizer abundance, and significant relationships were only present in the oiled marshes. In Terrebonne marsh soils, nitrification was more strongly related to AOB abundance whereas rates were more strongly related to AOA abundance in Barataria marsh soils. Although we found strong spatial patterns in nitrification, ammonia-oxidizer abundances, and soil properties that appear to, at least in part, be regulated by differences in elevation and hydrology, we found no significant oil effects 2 years post oil-exposure.


Nitrification potential Deepwater Horizon oil spill Ammonia-oxidizing archaea Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria Salt marsh 



We would like to thank Anya Hopple, Roberta Sheffer, Tiffany Warner, Matthew Rich, and Shauna-Kay Rainford for their help with sample collection and processing; Maggie Marton for editorial assistance; and the comments from the anonymous reviewers who improved this manuscript. Funding was provided by BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative program through the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC). The funders had no role in the design, execution, or analyses of this project. Data from this paper is archived at


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. Marton
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Brian J. Roberts
    • 1
  • Anne E. Bernhard
    • 2
  • Anne E. Giblin
    • 3
  1. 1.Louisiana Universities Marine ConsortiumChauvinUSA
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentConnecticut CollegeNew LondonUSA
  3. 3.Marine Biological LaboratoryThe Ecosystems CenterWoods HoleUSA
  4. 4.School of Public and Environmental AffairsIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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