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Influence of bioturbation on denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) in freshwater sediments

Abstract

Intensive agriculture leads to increased nitrogen fluxes (mostly as nitrate, NO3 ) to aquatic ecosystems, which in turn creates ecological problems, including eutrophication and associated harmful algal blooms. These problems have focused scientific attention on understanding the controls on nitrate reduction processes such as denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). Our objective was to determine the effects of nutrient-tolerant bioturbating invertebrates (tubificid oligochaetes) on nitrogen cycling processes, specifically coupled nitrification–denitrification, net denitrification, DNRA, and biogeochemical fluxes (O2, NO3 , NH4 +, CO2, N2O, and CH4) in freshwater sediments. A mesocosm experiment determined how tubificid density and increasing NO3 concentrations (using N15 isotope tracing) interact to affect N cycling processes. At the lowest NO3 concentration and in the absence of bioturbation, the relative importance of denitrification to DNRA was similar (i.e., 49.6 and 50.4 ± 8.1 %, respectively). Increasing NO3 concentrations in the control cores (without fauna) stimulated denitrification, but did not enhance DNRA, which significantly altered the relative importance of denitrification compared to DNRA (94.6 vs. 5.4 ± 0.9 %, respectively). The presence of tubificid oligochaetes enhanced O2, NO3 , NH4 + fluxes, greenhouse gas production, and N cycling processes. The relative importance of denitrification to DNRA shifted towards favoring denitrification with both the increase in NO3 concentrations and the increase of bioturbation activity. Our study highlights that understanding the interactions between nutrient-tolerant bioturbating species and nitrate contamination is important for determining the nitrogen removal capacity of eutrophic freshwater ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the following individuals who assisted with either sample collection or analyses: Melissa Tabatchnick, Avani Naik, Matt Konkler, Erin Cull, Melanie Stall, Valerie Schoepfer, and Sarah Harvey. We also thank Marshall Otter at MBL’s Stable Isotope Laboratory (Woods Hole, MA) for analyzing 15N samples. We also thank three anonymous referees for their valuable comments to the manuscript and their constructive suggestions.

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Correspondence to Geraldine Nogaro.

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Nogaro, G., Burgin, A.J. Influence of bioturbation on denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) in freshwater sediments. Biogeochemistry 120, 279–294 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-014-9995-9

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Keywords

  • Tubificid oligochaete
  • Lake sediment
  • Eutrophication
  • Nitrate ammonification
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Isotope pairing technique