MEPS 239:233-239 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps239233

Phytoplankton drives nitrite dynamics in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea

Mutaz Al-Qutob1,2,*, Clivia Häse3,4, Max M. Tilzer5, Boaz Lazar6,7

1Department of Biology, Faculty of Science and Technology, Alquds University, Palestinian Authority
2Department of Life Sciences, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
3Center for Tropical Marine Ecology‹ZMT, Fahrenheitstraße 6, Bremen, 28359 Bremen, Germany
4German Aerospace Center‹DLR Oberpfaffenhofen, 82230 Wessling, Germany
5Aquatic Ecology, University of Constance, 78457 Konstanz, Germany
6Institute of Earth Sciences and
7Moshe Shilo Centre for Marine Biogeochemistry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Givat Ram, 91904 Jerusalem, Israel
*Present address: Department of Life Sciences, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel.
E-mail:

ABSTRACT: This study focuses on the seasonal changes in the Gulf of Aquaba, Red Sea, in nitrite concentration and their relationship with phytoplankton activity, which is mainly controlled by an alternation of water-column stratification with vertical mixing. Within the euphotic zone, during thermal summer stratification, nutrient depletion was severe, and no nitrite could be detected in the upper 70 m. However, during stratification, nitrite was always associated with the nutriclines and formed a deep maximum at the bottom of the euphotic zone. In contrast, nitrite accumulated in the mixed water column during winter, closely paralleling the development of phytoplankton biomass. In the Gulf of Aqaba, maximum nitrite accumulation occurred when winter mixing reached its greatest depth, which in turn was coincident with the height of the phytoplankton spring bloom. Thus, our field data suggest that accumulation of nitrite is associated with nutrient-stimulated phytoplankton growth. This hypothesis was supported by nutrient-enrichment bioassays performed concomitantly: only when phytoplankton growth was stimulated by nutrient additions, did nitrite accumulate in the water. In the bioassays, the time-course of nitrite accumulation closely paralleled the development of phytoplankton biomass during the incubation period. We therefore suggest that the accumulation of nitrite in the mixed water column during winter is due to excretion by algal cells. Our field and experimental data show that between 10 and 15% of the total amount of nitrogen entering the mixed-water column is released as nitrite by phytoplankton. Further, our field and experimental data support the hypothesis that nitrite excretion by phytoplankton has a significant role in the formation of the deep nitrite maximum (DNM) during stratification in summer. In the bioassays, phytoplankton cells excreted nitrite even when ammonia was the nitrogen source. This indicates a so far unrecognised physiological pathway involved in nitrite excretion by phytoplankton cells.


KEY WORDS: Nutrients · Nitrogen species · Nitrite · Phytoplankton


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