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Aquatic Microbial Ecology

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AME 18:247-261 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/ame018247

Relations between bacterial nitrogen metabolism and growth efficiency in an estuarine and an open-water ecosystem

Niels O. G. Jørgensen1,*, Niels Kroer2, Richard B. Coffin3,**, Matthew P. Hoch3,***

1Department of Ecology, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Thorvaldsensvej 40, DK-1871 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
2Department of Marine Ecology and Microbiology, National Environmental Research Institute, Frederiksborgvej 399, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark
3United States Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Ecology Division, One Sabine Island Drive, Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561, USA
Present addresses:
**Environmental Quality Sciences Section, Code 6115, Naval Research Laboratory, 4555 Overlook Dr., SW, Washington, DC 20375, USA
***Biology Department, Environmental Science Building, Malaspina University-College, 900 Fifth Street, Nanaimo, British Columbia V9R 5S5, Canada

ABSTRACT: Bacterial uptake or release of dissolved nitrogen compounds (amino nitrogen, urea, ammonium and nitrate) were examined in 0.8 μm filtered water from an estuary (Santa Rosa Sound [SRS], northwestern Florida) and an open-water location in the Gulf of Mexico (GM). The bacterial nutrient dynamics were related to oxygen consumption and activity of enzymes involved in nitrogen assimilation (glutamate dehydrogenase [GDH], glutamine synthetase [GS] and aminopeptidase activity [leu-MCA]). Dissolved free amino acids (DFAA) were the dominant N source to the bacteria, followed by dissolved combined amino acids (DCAA), ammonium and nitrate. Nitrogen budgets of the bacteria (assimilation of N compounds relative to accumulated N biomass) demonstrated that, except for the initial 24 h period in the GM cultures, the assimilated N compounds sustained all of the bacterial N demand. Urea was released in both sets of cultures, but in the SRS cultures the produced urea was reassimilated. Major differences in the bacterial N metabolism between the open-water GM and the estuarine SRS stations were observed. Relative to the GM station, bacteria in the SRS cultures had (1) a 2.4 to 18x higher cell-specific DFAA assimilation, (2) a 2.5x higher cell-specific leu-MCA activity, (3) a 3 to 10x higher GDH:GS activity ratio and (4) a 1.9 to 4.1x lower cell-specific respiration. The larger nutrient availability at the estuarine station probably caused these differences in uptake and metabolism of nitrogen as well as the lower respiratory rate, relative to the open-water station. Therefore, we hypothesize that availability of nitrogen, rather than carbon, controlled the bacterial activity in the cultures. Our results suggest that bacteria in eutrophic conditions can be more important mediators of nitrogen than those in oligotrophic conditions, in which bacteria temporarily may immobilize labile nitrogen.

KEY WORDS: Nitrogen metabolism · Growth efficiency · Amino acids · Urea · Inorganic nitrogen · Enzyme activity · Gulf of Mexico

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