MEPS 199:83-96 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps199083

Effect of the seagrass Zostera capricorni on sediment microbial processes

Jens W. Hansen2,*, James W. Udy1, Christine J. Perry1, William C. Dennison1, Bente Aa. Lomstein2

1Department of Botany, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
2Department of Microbial Ecology, Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Aarhus, Bldg. 540, Ny Munkegade, 8000 Aarhus C., Denmark
*Present address: National Environmental Research Institute, Vejlsøvej 25, 8600 Silkeborg, Denmark. E-mail:

ABSTRACT: The effect of the seagrass Zostera capricorni on sediment microbial processes was studied in a tank experiment, where vegetated and unvegetated control sediments were incubated in 10 and 50% of incident light. Leaf and root-rhizome biomass, shoot density, and leaf productivity were significantly higher when plants were incubated in 50% than in 10% of incident light. Nitrogen fixation, sulphate reduction, and urea turnover in the Z. capricorni vegetated sediment were higher in the 50% than in the 10% light treatment and higher in the vegetated than in the unvegetated sediment. The stimulation of microbial processes in the Z. capricorni vegetated sediment took place in the rhizosphere, where nitrogen fixation and sulphate reduction in particular were stimulated. The sediment studies were supplemented by measurements of nitrogen fixation, sulphate reduction, and urea turnover by microorganisms associated with the roots and rhizomes of Z. capricorni. The rates of nitrogen fixation and sulphate reduction associated with root-rhizomes were up to 40- and 7-fold higher, respectively, than the highest respective sediment rates, whereas the root-rhizome associated urea turnover was lower than sediment rates. Nitrogen fixation and sulphate reduction associated with root-rhizomes could account for up to 39 and 4%, respectively, of the depth-integrated sediment rates. Nitrogen fixed by microorganisms associated with root-rhizomes could supply up to 65% of the nitrogen needed for plant growth. Further, it was estimated that 8 to 18% of the carbon fixed by Z. capricorni was released to the sediment by the roots and rhizomes. Urea turnover was suggested to be an important intermediate in the gross production of ammonium, and a low net production of ammonium indicated rapid internal nitrogen cycling within the sediment.


KEY WORDS: Zostera capricorni · Sediment · Roots · Rhizomes · Microbial processes · Light


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