removal versus recycling of biologically available N
Nitrate present or generated in any benthic ecosystem can be reduced by a number of microbial pathways, most notably denitrification, anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). The first two processes remove of biologically available N from the ecosystem in the form of gaseous N2, while the last process transforms of NO3- to another biologically available form, NH4+, and thus merely recycles N. Salt marshes are important ecosystems for the cycling, retention and removal of biologically available N transported from land to the oceans. We used ongoing ecosystem level nutrient additions experiments in two New England salt marshes, Plum Island Sound (NO3- additions since 2003) and Great Sippewissett Marsh (fertilizer additions since the 1970's) to examine the relative importance of these NO3- reduction pathways in salt marshes. Sediments from several experimental (and unmanipulated) sites were collected during the late summer/fall of 2009 and summer 2010 to measure the potential rates of NO3- reduction in sediment slurries enriched with NO3- and 15NO3- added as a tracer. The resulting 15N-labeled products (30N2, 29N2 and 15NH4+) were analyzed by mass spectrometry to determine rates of denitrification, anammox and DNRA, respectively. Sediment and plant parameters were also assessed for each site. Potential denitrification rates were high during mid-summer (up to 30 nmol N gww-1 h-1) but low during late summer and fall (< 5 nmol N gww-1 h-1). DNRA rates were both seasonally and spatially variable but was the dominant reduction pathway when denitrification was low suggesting a shift in importance between these two processes. This shift was loosely related to increasing NO3- loadings in Plum Island Sound, but showed the opposite trend in relation to N loading in Sippewissett. Clearly more work is needed to understand what determines the relative importance of removal versus recycling processes in salt marsh ecosystems.
nitrogen; salt marsh; nutrient cycling
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21st Biennial Conference of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, 2011