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Organic Matter Loading Modifies the Microbial Community Responsible for Nitrogen Loss in Estuarine Sediments


Coastal marine sediments, as locations of substantial fixed nitrogen loss, are very important to the nitrogen budget and to the primary productivity of the oceans. Coastal sediment systems are also highly dynamic and subject to periodic natural and anthropogenic organic substrate additions. The response to organic matter by the microbial community involved in nitrogen loss processes was evaluated using mesocosms of Chesapeake Bay sediments. Over the course of a 50-day incubation, rates of anammox and denitrification were measured weekly using 15N tracer incubations, and samples were collected for genetic analysis. Rates of both nitrogen loss processes and gene abundances associated with them corresponded loosely, probably because heterogeneities in sediments obscured a clear relationship. The rates of denitrification were stimulated more, and the fraction of nitrogen loss attributed to anammox slightly reduced, by the higher organic matter addition. Furthermore, the large organic matter pulse drove a significant and rapid shift in the denitrifier community composition as determined using a nirS microarray, indicating that the diversity of these organisms plays an essential role in responding to anthropogenic inputs. We also suggest that the proportion of nitrogen loss due to anammox in these coastal estuarine sediments may be underestimated due to temporal dynamics as well as from methodological artifacts related to conventional sediment slurry incubation approaches.

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We thank J. Bowen, J. Cornwell, and M. Owens for assistance in obtaining sediments and site water from Chesapeake Bay and the UC Davis Stable Isotope Facility for their mass spectrometry measurements. O. Coyle assisted significantly in the sampling of the mesocosms and the tracer experiments. K. Farrell, D. Qiu, and N. Setlur assisted in the nutrient measurements. Funding was provided by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship to ARB and National Science Foundation grants to BBW. This work was additionally funded by the Princeton Environmental Institute Siebel Energy Grand Challenges Initiative, and by an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to ARB (#1402109) during the writing of the manuscript.

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Babbin, A.R., Jayakumar, A. & Ward, B.B. Organic Matter Loading Modifies the Microbial Community Responsible for Nitrogen Loss in Estuarine Sediments. Microb Ecol 71, 555–565 (2016).

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  • Anammox
  • Denitrification
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Marine sediments