Denitrification, N-fixation and nitrogen and phosphorus fluxes in different benthic habitats and their contribution to the nitrogen and phosphorus budgets of a shallow oligotrophic sub-tropical coastal system (southern Moreton Bay, Australia)

Research paper by Bradley D. Eyre, Angus J. P. Ferguson, Arthur Webb, Damien Maher, Joanne M. Oakes

Indexed on: 20 Mar '10Published on: 20 Mar '10Published in: Biogeochemistry


Denitrification, N-fixation, and dissolved inorganic and organic fluxes of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) were measured in each of the major benthic habitat types of a shallow oligotrophic sub-tropical coastal system, and N and P budgets were constructed to quantify the importance of each habitat to N and P cycling in the whole ecosystem. The productivity/respiration (p/r) ratio (trophic status) of the habitats was an important control on the rates, direction (uptake, efflux) and composition (dissolved inorganic N (DIN), dissolved organic N (DON), N2) of N fluxes across the sediment–water interface, with an efflux below p/r = 1.5 and an uptake above p/r = 1.5. The Zostera Seagrass Community was the most important habitat for N loss via net N2 effluxes (denitrification; 48%). Denitrification rates in seagrass were higher than those previously measured in temperate regions, most likely due to greater availability of NH4+ for coupled nitrification–denitrification. Yabby Shoals (sub-tidal shoals inhabited by burrowing shrimp, Trypaea australiensis) accounted for the second largest loss of N via denitrification, the largest recycling of DIN and dissolved inorganic P (DIP; statistically significant only during the dark in summer) across the sediment–water interface and the second largest uptake of DON (statistically significant only in summer). This study highlighted that shallow subtropical coastal systems have a complex mosaic of benthic habitats and that some less ‘iconic’ habitats (i.e. non-seagrass) also make an important functional contribution that controls the flow of N and P through the whole ecosystem.