The fate of intertidal microphytobenthos carbon: An in situ 13C-labeling study

Middelburg, Jack J., Christiane Barranguet, Henricus T. S. Boschker, Peter M. J. Herman, Tom Moens, Carlo H. R. Heip

Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(6), 2000, 1224-1234 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.6.1224

ABSTRACT: At two intertidal sites (one sandy and one silty, in the Scheldt estuary, The Netherlands), the fate of microphytobenthos was studied through an in situ 13C pulse-chase experiment. Label was added at the beginning of low tide, and uptake of 13C by algae was linear during the whole period of tidal exposure (about 27 mg m-2 h-1 in the top millimeter at both sites). The 13C fixed by microphytobenthos was rapidly displaced toward deeper sediment layers (down to 6 cm), in particular at the dynamic, sandy site. The residence times of microphytobenthos with respect to external losses (resuspension and respiration) were about 2.4 and 5.6 d at the sandy and silty stations, respectively. The transfer of carbon from microphytobenthos to benthic consumers was estimated from the appearance of 13C in bacterial biomarkers, handpicked nematodes, and macrofauna. The incorporation of 13C into bacterial biomass was quantified by carbon isotope analysis of polar lipid derived fatty acids specific for bacteria. The bacterial polar lipid-derived fatty acids (i14:0, i15:0, a15:0, i16:0, and 18:1w7c) showed rapid, significant transfer from benthic algae to bacteria with maximum labeling after 1 d. Nematodes became enriched after 1 h, and 13C assimilation increased until day 3. Microphytobenthos carbon entered all heterotrophic components in proportion to heterotrophic biomass distribution (bacteria > macrofauna > meiofauna). Our results indicate a central role for microphytobenthos in moderating carbon flow in coastal sediments.

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