Tidal and seasonal forcing of dissolved nutrient fluxes in reef communities
Benthic fluxes of dissolved nutrients in reef communities are controlled by oceanographic forcing, including local hydrodynamics and seasonal changes in oceanic nutrient supply. Up to a third of reefs worldwide can be characterized as having circulation that is predominantly tidally forced, yet almost all previous research on reef nutrient fluxes has focused on systems with wave-driven circulation. Fluxes of dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus were measured on a strongly tide-dominated reef platform with a spring tidal range exceeding 8 m. Nutrient fluxes were estimated using a one-dimensional control volume approach, combining flow measurements with modified Eulerian sampling of waters traversing the reef. Measured fluxes were compared to theoretical mass-transfer-limited uptake rates derived from flow speeds. Reef communities released 2.3 mmol m−2 d−1 of nitrate, potentially derived from the remineralization of phytoplankton and dissolved organic nitrogen. Nutrient concentrations and flow speeds varied between the major benthic communities (coral reef and seagrass), resulting in spatial variability in estimated nitrate uptake rates. Rapid changes in flow speed and water depth are key characteristics of tide-dominated reefs, which caused mass-transfer-limited nutrient uptake rates to vary by an order of magnitude on timescales of ∼ minutes–hours. Seasonal nutrient supply was also a strong control on reef mass-transfer-limited uptake rates, and increases in offshore dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations during the wet season caused an estimated twofold increase in uptake.