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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 386:71-81 (2009)  -  DOI:

Prediction and validation of flow-dependent uptake of ammonium over a seagrass-hardbottom community in Florida Bay

Christopher D. Cornelisen1,3, Florence I. M. Thomas2,*

1Department of Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida 33620, USA
2Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96744, USA
3Present address: Cawthron Institute, 98 Halifax St East, Nelson 7042, New Zealand
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Hydrodynamic surveys and field flume experiments were carried out to characterize water flow and measure nutrient uptake over a shallow hardbottom flat sparsely colonized by seagrasses, a complex community type commonly found along corridors linking Florida Bay and the Florida reef tract. Acoustic Doppler velocimeter profiles collected in tide-driven flows revealed benthic hydrodynamic conditions indicative of disturbed boundary layer flow; attenuation of flow near the benthos and measures of bottom friction were considerably less than observed in densely colonized seagrass beds. Mass-transfer coefficients (S) for ammonium, predicted using velocity data and estimates of bottom friction, ranged between 0.35 × 104 and 1.91 × 104 m s–1 for current velocity between 0.03 and 0.39 m s–1. Values of S measured using a field flume were within the same range as predicted values, validating that ammonium uptake by the community is occurring near the mass-transfer limit. Mass-transfer coefficients fell slightly above those previously measured for low-relief coral rubble and below those for dense seagrass canopies, thereby confirming a close link between bottom roughness and mass transfer. Predicted ammonium uptake based on ambient velocity and nutrient concentrations varied considerably over the tidal cycle (range = 0.014 to 0.094 µmol NH4 m–2 s–1) and highlighted the importance of temporal variation in both current velocity and nutrient concentration in driving rates of nutrient uptake. Additional field flume experiments using 15N-labeled ammonium enabled us to examine flow-dependent uptake for a number of organisms within the complex community. Uptake rates were found to vary among seagrasses, macroalgae, and finger corals, perhaps due to physiological or morphological differences or varying locations within the canopy.

KEY WORDS: Nutrient uptake · Water flow · Mass-transfer limitation · Seagrass · Hardbottom · 15N uptake · Isotope label

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Cite this article as: Cornelisen CD, Thomas FIM (2009) Prediction and validation of flow-dependent uptake of ammonium over a seagrass-hardbottom community in Florida Bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 386:71-81.

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