Particulate organic matter controls benthic microbial N retention and N removal in contrasting estuaries of the Baltic Sea

Bartl, Ines; Hellemann, Dana; Rabouille, Christophe; Schulz, Kirstin; Tallberg, Petra; Hietanen, Susanna; Voss, Maren

Estuaries worldwide act as “filters” of land-derived nitrogen (N) loads, yet differences in coastal environmental settings can affect the N filter function. We investigated microbial N retention (nitrification, ammonium assimilation) and N removal (denitrification, anammox) processes in the aphotic benthic system (bottom boundary layer (BBL) and sediment) of two Baltic Sea estuaries differing in riverine N loads, trophic state, geomorphology, and sediment type. In the BBL, rates of nitrification (5–227 nmol N L−1 d−1) and ammonium assimilation (9–704 nmol N L−1 d−1) were not enhanced in the eutrophied Vistula Estuary compared to the oligotrophic Öre Estuary. No anammox was detected in the sediment of either estuary, while denitrification rates were twice as high in the eutrophied (352±123µmol N m−2 d−1) as in the oligotrophic estuary. Particulate organic matter (POM) was mainly of phytoplankton origin in the benthic systems of both estuaries. It seemed to control heterotrophic denitrification and ammonium assimilation as well as autotrophic nitrification by functioning as a substrate source of N and organic carbon. Our data suggest that in stratified estuaries, POM is an essential link between riverine N loads and benthic N turnover and may furthermore function as a temporary N reservoir. During long particle residence times or alongshore transport pathways, increased time is available for the recycling of N until its eventual removal, allowing effective coastal filtering even at low process rates. Understanding the key controls and microbial N processes in the coastal N filter therefore requires to also consider the effects of geomorphological and hydrological features.

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Bartl, Ines / Hellemann, Dana / Rabouille, Christophe / et al: Particulate organic matter controls benthic microbial N retention and N removal in contrasting estuaries of the Baltic Sea. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Ines Bartl et al.

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