MEPS 280:39-54 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps280039

Carbon and nitrogen cycling on intertidal mudflats of a temperate Australian estuary. II. Nitrogen cycling

Perran L. M. Cook1,2,3,5,*, Andrew T. Revill2,3, Edward C. V. Butler2,3, Bradley D. Eyre4

1University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252-75, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
2CSIRO Marine Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
3CRC for Coastal Zone, Estuary and Waterway Management, Indooroopilly Sciences Centre, 80 Meiers Road Indooroopilly, Queensland 4068, Australia
4Centre for Coastal Management, Southern Cross University, PO Box 157, Lismore 2480, Australia
5Present address: Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstrasse 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany

ABSTRACT: Benthic fluxes of dissolved nitrogen, rates of denitrification, N2 fixation and NH4+ upward flux within the sediment (calculated from porewater profiles) were measured on the upper and lower mudflats at 2 study sites, 1 in the upper, river-dominated part of the estuary, and 1 in the lower, more marine part of the Huon Estuary, Tasmania, Australia. The calculated upward flux of NH4+ from within the sediment based on porewater profiles was generally in excess of measured benthic fluxes, suggesting that NH4+ was reassimilated at the sediment surface by microphytobenthos (MPB). The ratio of total CO2 (TCO2):NH4+ produced within the sediment was generally in excess of 15, and in some cases in excess of 60. Significant influxes and effluxes of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) were measured where the activity of MPB was highest. At times, DON influxes and effluxes were well in excess of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) fluxes, highlighting the importance of measuring DON fluxes where the activity of MPB is high. Rates of denitrification were very low, and represented only a small loss of N from the sediment, most probably as a consequence of the activity of MPB. Estimates of nitrogen assimilation by MPB showed that N2 fixation was likely to be the major source of nitrogen during the summer at the study site in the upper estuary. There was also a high estimated C:N ratio (~20) of TCO2 and nitrogen assimilated at this site, suggesting that a significant proportion of primary production was exuded as dissolved organic carbon rather than cellular production.

KEY WORDS: Microphytobenthos · Denitrification · Intertidal · Porewater · Dissolved organic nitrogen · Sediment · Nitrogen fixation · Sediment-water exchange

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