Detritivorous macrofauna species co-ingest large quantities of microorganisms some of which survive the gut passage. Denitrifying bacteria, in particular, become metabolically induced by anoxic conditions, nitrate, and labile organic compounds in the gut of invertebrates. A striking consequence of the short-term metabolic induction of gut denitrification is the preferential production of nitrous oxide rather than dinitrogen. On a large scale, gut denitrification in, for instance, Chironomus plumosus larvae can increase the overall nitrous oxide emission of lake sediment by a factor of eight. We screened more than 20 macrofauna species for nitrous oxide production and identified filter-feeders and deposit-feeders that occur ubiquitously and at high abundance (e.g., chironomids, ephemeropterans, snails, and mussels) as the most important emitters of nitrous oxide. In contrast, predatory species that do not ingest large quantities of microorganisms produced insignificant amounts of nitrous oxide. Ephemera danica, a very abundant mayfly larva, was monitored monthly in a nitrate-polluted stream. Nitrous oxide production by this filter-feeder was highly dependent on nitrate availability and temperature. Given the increasing nitrate pollution of freshwater ecosystems, the collective gut of benthic macrofauna might constitute an increasingly important yet hitherto overlooked link in the global nitrous oxide budget.
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30th Congress of the International Association of Theoretical and Applied Limnology, 2007