Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 119–133 | Cite as

Spatiotemporal Variability in Dissolved Organic Matter Composition is More Strongly Related to Bacterioplankton Community Composition than to Metabolic Capability in a Blackwater Estuarine System

  • Emma K. Wear
  • Eric T. Koepfler
  • Erik M. Smith


The composition and metabolic capability of bacterioplankton communities were examined over seasonal and spatial gradients and related to the source, composition, and quantity of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the blackwater estuary Winyah Bay, Georgetown County, SC, USA and its tributary rivers. Bacterial community composition (BCC) was measured by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism, and bacterial metabolic capability (BMC) was measured by defined substrate utilization patterns (Biolog GN2 plates). Spatial patterns were not important, despite the anticipated watershed effects and the well-documented influence of salinity gradients on estuarine bacterioplankton, but DOM, BCC, and BMC all showed varying degrees of temporal patterns; DOM-based groupings differentiated BCC samples better than spatiotemporal categories, but not BMC. BCC was closely related to properties describing DOM composition, particularly those related to DOM source (i.e., cypress swamps vs. in situ phytoplankton production, indicated by chlorophyll a, colored DOM spectral slope, α355/dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and DOC concentration), and to associated physicochemical variables, such as temperature, pH, and salinity. BMC was more strongly related to abiotic factors, such as temperature and dissolved nutrients, as well as to chlorophyll a and percent bioavailable DOC. In contrast with previous studies, BCC and BMC were significantly correlated in this highly heterotrophic estuary, suggesting that DOM source variability may select for specialist phylotypes above a background of generalists. This study, therefore, supports a causative pathway from DOM to BMC to BCC while suggesting that BCC and BMC may be simultaneously influenced by different suites of DOM characteristics and physicochemical parameters.


Dissolved organic matter T-RFLP Bacterial community composition Biolog Bacterial metabolic capability Blackwater 



We thank Samuel Gary, Jr. for the cheerful captaining and fieldwork assistance; Craig Nelson for the guidance on molecular work; Amy Willman and Erin Burge for the assistance with laboratory techniques; Benjamin Lakish for the nutrient analyses; Charles Lovell and George Matsui for the plate reader access; C. Nelson, Craig Carlson, and two anonymous reviewers for the comments on the manuscript; and Coastal Carolina University’s Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies Program for the support. This research was conducted under an award from the Estuarine Reserves Division, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Supplementary material

12237_2013_9651_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (159 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 159 kb)


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© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma K. Wear
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eric T. Koepfler
    • 3
  • Erik M. Smith
    • 4
  1. 1.Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies ProgramCoastal Carolina UniversityConwayUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Department of Marine ScienceCoastal Carolina UniversityConwayUSA
  4. 4.Baruch Marine Field LaboratoryUniversity of South CarolinaGeorgetownUSA

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