Biogeochemical effects of iron availability on primary producers in a shallow marine carbonate environment

Chambers, Randolph M., James W. Fourqurean, Stephen A. Macko, Regis Hoppenot

Limnol. Oceanogr., 46(6), 2001, 1278-1286 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2001.46.6.1278

ABSTRACT: We completed a synoptic survey of iron, phosphorus, and sulfur concentrations in shallow marine carbonate sediments from south Florida. Total extracted iron concentrations typically were <50 µmol g-1 dry weight (DW) and tended to decrease away from the Florida mainland, whereas total extracted phosphorus concentrations mostly were <10 µmol g-1 DW and tended to decrease from west to east across Florida Bay. Concentrations of reduced sulfur compounds, up to 40 µmol g-1 DW, tended to covary with sediment iron concentrations, suggesting that sulfide mineral formation was iron-limited. An index of iron availability derived from sediment data was negatively correlated with chlorophyll a concentrations in surface waters, demonstrating the close coupling of sediment-water column processes. Eight months after applying a surface layer of iron oxide granules to experimental plots, sediment iron, phosphorus, and sulfur were elevated to a depth of 10 cm relative to control plots. Biomass of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum was not different between control and iron addition plots, but individual shoot growth rates were significantly higher in experimental plots after 8 months. Although the iron content of leaf tissues was significantly higher from iron addition plots, no difference in phosphorus content of T. testudinum leaves was observed. Iron addition altered plant exposure to free sulfide, documented by a significantly higher d34S of leaf tissue from experimental plots relative to controls. Iron as a buffer to toxic sulfides may promote individual shoot growth, but phosphorus availability to plants still appears to limit production in carbonate sediments.

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