MEPS 294:117-129 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps294117

Response of microphytobenthic biomass to experimental nutrient enrichment and grazer exclusion at different land-derived nitrogen loads

Mark A. Lever1,2,*, Ivan Valiela1

1Boston University Marine Program, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
2Present address: Department of Marine Sciences, 12-7 Venable Hall CB #3300, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA

ABSTRACT: Effects of eutrophication on the relative importance of nutrients and macroherbivores as controls of microphytobenthic standing crop were examined in estuaries with different nitrogen loading rates: Sage Lot Pond (14 kg ha–1 yr–1), Green Pond (178 kg ha–1 yr–1), and Childs River (601 kg ha–1 yr–1). We selected 5 sites with similar salinity ranges on shallow-water, sandy substrates per estuary. In year-round experiments, we fertilized sediments with nitrogen + phosphorus to examine nutrient limitation. We conducted exclusion experiments to determine the significance of macroherbivores as controls of microphytobenthic biomass and examined possible interactions between nutrients and grazing in cages fertilized with nitrogen + phosphorus. Cages fertilized with nitrogen only were also included to determine if nitrogen availability was limiting. Nitrogen + phosphorus addition increased sediment chlorophyll a (chl a) content (herein used as a proxy for biomass) by a similar magnitude across estuaries. Grazer exclusion also increased chl a, but to a different extent across estuaries: the magnitude of the response increased with increasing nitrogen loading rates. We found no interactions between nutrients and grazing. Strong chl a increases in response to nitrogen only addition indicated N limitation in Sage Lot Pond and Green Pond. In the highly eutrophic Childs River estuary we found virtually no response to nitrogen-only additions, suggesting the possibility of phosphorus limitation in this estuary.

KEY WORDS: Microphytobenthos · Biomass · Nutrients · Grazers · Eutrophication · Nitrogen load

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