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Aquatic Microbial Ecology

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AME 15:177-189 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/ame015177

Inorganic and organic nitrogen cycling in Chesapeake Bay: autotrophic versus heterotrophic processes and relationships to carbon flux

Deborah A. Bronk1,*, Patricia M. Glibert2, Thomas C. Malone2, Susan Banahan3, Elisabeth Sahlsten4

1Department of Marine Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-3636, USA
2Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, PO Box 775, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA
3Coastal Oceans Office, NOAA, 1315 East-West Highway, Rm 15140, Silver Springs, Maryland 20910-3223, USA
4Department of General and Marine Microbiology, University of Göteborg, Medicinaregatan 9C, S-41390 Göteborg, Sweden

ABSTRACT: To define the role of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in Chesapeake Bay (USA) nitrogen cycling, we performed experiments in the mesohaline Chesapeake Bay during 3 seasons: May, during the mid to late spring bloom, August, when patchy summer blooms often develop, and October, after the fall overturn. Every 3 h for 30 h we measured ambient nitrogen concentrations and used 15N tracers to determine uptake and regeneration rates of NH4+ and urea, uptake rates of NO3- (NO2- was measured in October only), and rates of DON release due to NH4+ uptake. Autotrophic production and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) release were determined simultaneously using 14C tracer techniques to compare with nitrogen flux rates. We found that first, the water column nitrogen demand exceeded nitrogen regeneration in May but nitrogen regeneration was over 3 times greater than the nitrogen demand in October. Second, mean rates of autotrophic DON release were highest in May but heterotrophic release was more important in summer and fall. Third, during all 3 studies, the C:N ratio of DOC to DON release rates was 3.4 to 4.5, indicating release of nitrogen-rich compounds. Release of dissolved organic matter (DOM) with a low C:N ratio was corroborated by an observed increase in DON concentrations from 7 to 42 μg-at. N l-1 from May to August and a concomitant decrease in the C:N ratio of the ambient DOM pool from 36.6 to 8.8. These data suggest that Chesapeake Bay is primarily autotrophic in the spring, but becomes progressively more heterotrophic later in the year. These data also suggest that DON is an important intermediate in this transition and serves as a link between the allochthonous nitrogen-based autotrophic production in the spring and the autochthonous nitrogen-based heterotrophic system in the summer and fall.

KEY WORDS: Nitrogen · Chesapeake Bay · Dissolved organic nitrogen · Dissolved organic carbon · C:N ratios

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