Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 371–385 | Cite as

Effects of modified nutrient concentrations and ratios on the structure and function of the native phytoplankton community in the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina, USA

  • Michael F. Piehler
  • Julianne Dyble
  • Pia H. Moisander
  • James L. Pinckney
  • Hans W. Paerl


A variety of analyses were used to assess the structure (community composition) and function (assimilation number, nitrogen fixation) of phytoplankton in the Neuse River Estuary (NRE), NC under ambient and modified nutrient concentrations. Dilution bioassays were employed to reduce the concentration of nitrogen (N) or both N and phosphorus (P) and thus compare varied DIN:DIP ratios. Experimental manipulations created conditions that may result from mandated N load reductions to the estuary. We hypothesized that unilateral reduction of N loading to the NRE would increase the activity, abundance and diversity of N2 fixing cyanobacteria. Changes in phytoplankton primary productivity, N2 fixation (nitrogenase activity), genetic potential for N2 fixation (presence of nifH), phytoplankton taxonomic composition (diagnostic photopigment concentration) and abundances of N2 fixing cyanobacteria (microscopy) were determined. Decreasing ambient DIN:DIP ratios in NRE samples resulted in increased rates of N2 fixation when seed populations were present and environmental conditions were amenable. Decreasing the DIN:DIP ratio did not lead to an increase in the abundance or diversity of N2 fixing cyanobacteria. Because N2 fixing cyanobacteria were only actively fixing nitrogen during periods of low riverine N discharge (summer and early autumn), lowering nutrient ratios may not have a major impact on the NRE. However, the maximum potential amount of N from N2 fixation was calculated using rates from this study and was found to be approximately 3% of total riverine loading of N to the NRE. Because N2 fixation occurs farther downstream and later in the year than riverine N loading to the NRE, there is potential for N2 fixation to modify N dynamics. Analyses of the phytoplankton community as a whole in these relatively short term experiments indicated that reduced DIN:DIP may not have a major impact on their structure and function.

community structure cyanobacteria dilution bioassays N2 fixation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael F. Piehler
    • 1
  • Julianne Dyble
    • 1
  • Pia H. Moisander
    • 1
  • James L. Pinckney
    • 2
  • Hans W. Paerl
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Marine SciencesThe University of North Carolina at Chapel HillMorehead CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Oceanography, Texas A &M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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