Carbon and nitrogen cycling in a shallow productive sub-tropical coastal embayment (western Moreton Bay, Australia)

Document Type


Publication details

Ferguson, AJP & Eyre, BD 2010, 'Carbon and nitrogen cycling in a shallow productive sub-tropical coastal embayment (western Moreton Bay, Australia)', Ecosystems, vol. 13, no. 7, pp. 1127-1144.

Published version available from:


Peer Reviewed



Climatic variables, water quality, benthic fluxes, sediment properties, and infauna were measured six times over an annual cycle in a shallow sub-tropical embayment to characterize carbon and nutrient cycling, and elucidate the role of pelagic–benthic coupling. Organic carbon (OC) inputs to the bay are dominated by phytoplankton (mean 74%), followed by catchment inputs (15%), and benthic microalgae (BMA; 9%). The importance of catchment inputs was highly variable and dependent on antecedent rainfall, with significant storage of allochthonous OC in sediments following high flow events and remineralization of this material supporting productivity during the subsequent period. Outputs were dominated by benthic mineralization (mean 59% of total inputs), followed by pelagic mineralization (16%), burial (1%), and assimilation in macrofaunal biomass (2%). The net ecosystem metabolism (NEM = production minus respiration) varied between −4 and 33% (mean 9%) of total primary production, whereas the productivity/respiration (p/r) ranged between 0.96 and 1.5 (mean 1.13). Up to 100% of the NEM is potentially removed via the demersal detritivore pathway. Dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) inputs from the catchment contributed less than 1% of the total phytoplankton demand, implicating internal DIN recycling (pelagic 23% and benthic 19%) and potentially benthic dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) fluxes (27%) or N fixation (up to 47%) as important processes sustaining productivity. Although phytoplankton dominated OC inputs in this system, BMA exerted strong seasonal controls over benthic DIN fluxes, limiting pelagic productivity when mixing/photic depth approached 1.3. The results of this study suggest low DIN:TOC and net autotrophic NEM may be a significant feature of shallow sub-tropical systems where the mixing/photic depth is consistently less than 4.

Find in your library