Enhanced microbial nitrogen transformations in association with macrobiota from the rocky intertidal
Microbial nitrogen processing in direct association with marine animals and seaweeds is poorly understood. Microbes can both attach to the surfaces of macrobiota and make use of their excreted nitrogen and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). We tested the role of an intertidal mussel (Mytilus californianus) and red alga (Prionitis sternbergii), as well as inert substrates for microbial activity using enclosed chambers with seawater labeled with 15N-enriched ammonium and nitrate. Chambers with only seawater from the same environment served as a control. We found that 3.21 nmol of ammonium per gram of dry mass of mussel, on average, was oxidized per hour, while 1.60 nmol of nitrate was reduced per hour. Prionitis was associated with the oxidation of 1.50 nmol of ammonium per gram of wet mass per hour, while 1.56 nmol of nitrate was reduced per hour. Inert substrates produced relatively little change compared to seawater alone. Extrapolating to a square meter of shoreline, microbial activity associated with mussels could oxidize 2.5 mmol of ammonium and reduce per 1.2 mmol of nitrate per day. A square meter of seaweed could oxidize 0.13 mmol ammonium per day and reduce the same amount of nitrate. Seawater collected proximal to the shore versus 2–5 km offshore showed no difference in ammonium oxidation or nitrate reduction. Microbial nitrogen metabolism associated with mussels was not influenced by the time of day. When we experimentally added DOC (glucose) as a carbon source to chambers with the red alga and inert substrates, no change in nitrification rates was observed. Added DOC did increase dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and phosphorus uptake, indicating that DOC addition stimulated heterotrophic microbial activity, and suggests potential competition for DIN between heterotrophic and chemolithotrophic microbes and their seaweed hosts. Our results demonstrate that microbes in direct association with coastal animals and seaweeds greatly enhance nitrogen processing and likely provide a template for a diversity of ecological interactions.