AME 31:279-305 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/ame031279

Dissolved organic nitrogen: a dynamic participant in aquatic ecosystems

Tom Berman1,* , Deborah A. Bronk2

1Yigal Alon Kinneret Limnological Laboratory, Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, PO Box 447, Migdal 14950, Israel
2College of William and Mary/Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Route 1208, Greate Road, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA

ABSTRACT: In both marine and freshwaters, the concentration of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) frequently exceeds that of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), including ammonium, nitrate, and nitrite. Recent evidence indicates that many organic N compounds are released into the DON pool and taken up from this pool by planktonic microbiota on timescales of hours to days. This observation suggests that many components of the DON pool can play an active role in supplying N nutrition directly or indirectly to phytoplankton and bacteria and, in so doing, may affect the species composition of the ambient microbial assemblage. Here we present an overview of the state of knowledge of DON pools in aquatic environments, focused mainly on data gathered in the last decade. We review information on DON concentrations in freshwater and marine systems, analytical methods for the determination of DON, and the biotic and abiotic sources and sinks of DON. More detailed discussion addresses specific components of the DON pool: urea, dissolved combined and free amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids, amino sugars, and humic substances. The DON pool in natural waters is not inert and can be an important sink and source for N. There is a need for greater appreciation and understanding of the potential role of DON as a dynamic participant in the nitrogen cycle within aquatic ecosystems, particularly in freshwater environments.


KEY WORDS: Dissolved organic nitrogen · Phytoplankton · Bacteria · N nutrition · N cycling · Marine/freshwater ecosystems


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