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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 307:127-141 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps307127

Seasonal patterns of nitrogen fixation and denitrification in oceanic mangrove habitats

Rosalynn Y. Lee, Samantha B. Joye*

Department of Marine Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-3636, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Mangrove peat soils are home to a variety of microbial communities that may play a vital role in system-level elemental cycling. We examined rates of nitrogen fixation and denitrification in benthic microbial mats on Twin Cays, Belize, a pair of oceanic mangrove islands. A tree-height gradient across the islands created distinct habitats for benthic microbes. Seawater flushing of the benthos and tree height decreased landward from tall, dense trees on the island fringe through a transition zone of high elevation and intermediate tree heights. In the center of the islands, microbial mats with dense communities of cyanobacteria and purple sulfur bacteria covered the benthic surface of shallow ponds and around dwarf trees. Wet-dry seasonality, tidal cycles and elevation controlled the extent of mat exposure to desiccation and UV radiation. Nitrogen fixation was controlled primarily by the sensitivity of nitrogenase to oxygen inhibition, whereas denitrification was limited by oxidant (nitrate) availability. Diel patterns of nitrogen fixation varied with the type of cyanobacteria dominant in each mat. Dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentration influenced both nitrogen fixation and denitrification rates. Redox conditions contributed to variability in mat nitrogen fixation and denitrification response to nutrient addition, while dissolved organic carbon did not. Microbial mat nitrogen cycling likely contributes to the nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) limitation patterns observed in the mangrove trees; in dwarf habitats, mats serve as a source of nitrogen via nitrogen fixation, while in fringe and transition habitats, mats compete with the trees for nitrogen via denitrification.

KEY WORDS: Microbial mat · Cyanobacteria · Mangrove · Nitrogen fixation · Denitrification · Desiccation

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