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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 556:59-77 (2016)  -  DOI:

Spatial variation in rates of benthic denitrification and environmental controls in four New Zealand estuaries

Catherine Gongol1, Candida Savage1,2,*

1Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
2Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Denitrification plays a key role in global biogeochemical cycles as the main nitrogen (N) loss process that limits availability of N to primary producers. This study presents the first measurements of sediment denitrification rates for New Zealand estuaries. Spatially explicit rates of direct denitrification (Dw) and coupled nitrification-denitrification (Dn) were quantified using the isotope pairing method in 4 oligotrophic to moderately nutrient-enriched estuaries on the South Island, New Zealand (Avon-Heathcote, Waikouaiti, Tokomairiro, Tautuku). Coupled nitrification-denitrification dominated (>86%), with most sites having low dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations (<30 µmol l-1). Rates of total denitrification (Dtot) and Dn were negatively correlated with percent sand and positively related to oxygen penetration depth (OPD). Surface sediment chlorophyll a concentrations and percent carbon (%C) were also identified as significant predictors of Dtot and Dn in the single-factor models. By contrast, Dw was the main nitrogen removal process at moderately nutrient-enriched sites and was positively related to DIN concentrations in the water column and negatively correlated with percent sand. OPD and %C were also identified as significant predictors of Dw. While Dw was positively related to DIN concentrations, overall rates of denitrification were not, demonstrating that predictive relationships between N loading and removal are not always possible in oligotrophic estuaries. Our findings demonstrate the importance of grain size as a driver of denitrification rates in estuaries and imply that an increase in fine-grained sediments from land-use intensification may alter rates of N removal in estuaries through complex direct and indirect processes.

KEY WORDS: Denitrification · Estuaries · New Zealand · Nitrogen · Benthic · Sediment grain size · Isotope pairing method · Oxygen flux

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Cite this article as: Gongol C, Savage C, (2016) Spatial variation in rates of benthic denitrification and environmental controls in four New Zealand estuaries. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 556:59-77.

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