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Metabolic Responses of Estuarine Microbial Communities to Discharge of Surface Runoff and Groundwater from Contrasting Landscapes

Abstract

Groundwater discharge is increasingly recognized as a significant source of nutrient input to coastal waters, relative to surface water inputs. There remains limited information, however, on the extent to which nutrients and organic matter from each of these two flowpaths influence the functional responses of coastal microbial communities. As such, this study determined dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nutrient concentrations of surface water runoff and groundwater from both an urbanized and a relatively pristine forested drainage basin near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and quantified the changes in production rates and biomass of phytoplankton and bacterioplankton in response to these inputs during two microcosm incubation experiments (August and October, 2011). Rainwater in the urbanized basin that would otherwise enter the groundwater appeared to be largely rerouted into the surface flowpath by impervious surfaces, bypassing ecosystem buffers and filtration mechanisms. Surface runoff from the developed basin was most enriched in nutrients and DOC and yielded the highest production rates of the various source waters upon addition to coastal waters. The metabolic responses of phytoplankton and bacterioplankton were generally well predicted as a function of initial chemical composition of the various source waters, though more so with bacterial production. Primary and bacterial productivities often correlated at reciprocal time points (24-h measurement of one with the 72-h measurement of the other). These results suggest human modification of coastal watersheds enhances the magnitude of dissolved constituents delivered to coastal waters as well as alters their distributions between surface and groundwater flowpaths, with significant implications for microbial community structure and function in coastal receiving waters.

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Acknowledgments

Financial support for this work was provided by the National Estuarine Research Reserve Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the Savannah Presbytery, and the Slocum-Lunz Foundation. We thank Ashley Riggs, Amy Willman, Tracy Buck, Jamie Brusa, Damon Tucker and Leigha Peterson for assistance in the lab and in the field; Kevin Godwin and Keshov Jagannathan for help with statistical analyses; Susan Libes, Samantha Joye, and Kimberly Hunter for their perspectives on the experimental design and for providing laboratory access and support. The constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Patrick R. Hutchins.

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Hutchins, P.R., Smith, E.M., Koepfler, E.T. et al. Metabolic Responses of Estuarine Microbial Communities to Discharge of Surface Runoff and Groundwater from Contrasting Landscapes. Estuaries and Coasts 37, 736–750 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-013-9719-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-013-9719-8

Keywords

  • Phytoplankton
  • Bacteria
  • Production
  • Stormwater
  • Groundwater
  • Estuaries