Postprint of: Eyre, BD, Oakes, JM & Middelburg, JJ 2016, 'Fate of microphytobenthos nitrogen in subtropical subtidal sediments: a 15N pulse-chase study', Limnology and Oceanography, vol. 61, no. 6, pp. 2108-2121.
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Microphytobenthos (MPB) are an important nitrogen (N) sink in coastal systems, but little is known about the fate of this N after it has been assimilated. We used an in situ 15N pulse-chase experiment in subtidal sands to follow the assimilation, trophic transfer, transformation, and flux pathways of MPB-N over 33 d. Throughout the study MPB dominated 15N uptake, on average representing only 18.1% of the biomass but 63.9% of the 15N within 0–2 cm sediment. Following assimilation, 15N was rapidly transferred to deeper sediment, with 32.1% below 2 cm and 16.5% below 5 cm after 60 h. In contrast to MPB, bacteria represented 39.5% of sediment biomass but accounted for only up to 27.3% of assimilated 15N. Foraminifera accumulated and stored 15N more than bacteria; their contribution to the 15N remaining in 0–2 cm sediment at the end of the study was more than double their biomass contribution. Thirty-three days after the 15N was assimilated by MPB 27% remained in the sediment, 16.5% had been effluxed as NO2 3 , 20.8% had been effluxed as NH1 4 , 20.7% had been effluxed as N2 and 15.1% was missing. Most (12.6%) of 15N label that was missing at the end of the study was probably lost as dissolved organic N (DON) fluxes. Of the 15N remaining in 0–2 cm sediment, 80.4% was in MPB, 2.7% in bacteria, 1% in foraminifera and the remaining 15.9% was uncharacterized. Overall there was little benthic trophic transfer with most of the MPB-assimilated N remineralized over 33 d.