Uptake of dissolved organic nitrogen by size-fractionated plankton along a salinity gradient from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea

Research paper by Frederike Korth, Barbara Deutsch, Iris Liskow, Maren Voss

Indexed on: 28 Sep '11Published on: 28 Sep '11Published in: Biogeochemistry


The Baltic Sea is known for its ecological problems due to eutrophication caused by high nutrient input via nitrogen fixation and rivers, which deliver up to 70% of nitrogen in the form of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) compounds. We therefore measured organic nitrogen uptake rates using self produced 15N labeled allochthonous (derived from Brassica napus and Phragmites sp.) and autochthonous (derived from Skeletonema costatum) DON at twelve stations along a salinity gradient (34 to 2) from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea in August/September 2009. Both labeled DON sources were exploited by the size fractions 0.2–1.6 μm (bacteria size fraction) and >1.6 μm (phytoplankton size fraction). Higher DON uptake rates were measured in the Baltic Sea compared to the North Sea, with rates of up to 1213 nmol N l−1 h−1. The autochthonous DON was the dominant nitrogen form used by the phytoplankton size fraction, whereas the heterotrophic bacteria size fraction preferred the allochthonous DON. We detected a moderate shift from >1.6 μm plankton dominated DON uptake in the North Sea and central Baltic Sea towards a 0.2–1.6 μm dominated DON uptake in the Bothnian Bay and a weak positive relationship between DON concentrations and uptake. These findings indicate that DON is an important component of plankton nutrition and can fuel primary production. It may therefore also contribute substantially to eutrophication in the Baltic Sea especially when inorganic nitrogen sources are depleted.