The effect of eelgrass decomposition on sediment carbon and nitrogen cycling: A controlled laboratory experiment

Pedersen, Anna-Grethe U., Jørgen Berntsen, Bente Aa. Lomstein

Limnol. Oceanogr., 44(8), 1999, 1978-1992 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.1999.44.8.1978

ABSTRACT: The initial benthic degradation of senescent Zostera marina leaves was studied in controlled flowthrough microcosm chambers for 33 d. Sediment chambers without added eelgrass leaves served as control chambers. The in-flowing artificial seawater and ouflowing seawater were analyzed for dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen (DOC and DON), total acid-hydrolyzable amino acids (THAA), dissolved free amino acids (DFAA), urea, NH4+, NO3-, CO2, and O2 during the 33 d of incubation. Sediment profiles of particulate organic carbon and nitrogen, sediment acid-hydrolyzable amino acids, DON, DFAA, urea, NH4+ and the turnover rate of urea were measured at four different times during the 33 d of incubation. There was an immediate increase in carbon oxidation and the effluxes of DOC, DON, and NH4+ after the addition of eelgrass leaves to the sediment surface. During the course of incubation, 24.3% of the DON efflux was identified as acid-hydrolyzable amino acids, dissolved free amino acids, and urea in the chambers with eelgrass addition, whereas these compounds accounted for 33.8% of the DON efflux in the control chambers. There were indications of a stimulated bacterial growth on the eelgrass leaves during the first 7 d after leaf addition that was measured as an increase in acid-hydrolyzable amino acids. Further, there was a gradual increase in acid-hydrolyzable amino acids in the sediment throughout the incubation that could only be explained as bacterial growth (and/or protein synthesis). Most of the nitrogen for microbial growth was mobilized from the indigenous particulate organic nitrogen pool, whereas it could be inferred that the energy source for bacterial growth was mainly supplied from the added eelgrass leaves. Most of the nitrogen mineralized within the sediment was incorporated into the microbial biomass with a resultant low efflux of inorganic nitrogen from the sediment to the water column.

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