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Functioning of a Shallow-Water Sediment System during Experimental Warming and Nutrient Enrichment

Journal article
Authors Christian Alsterberg
Kristina Sundbäck
Stefan Hulth
Published in Plos One
Volume 7
Issue 12
ISSN 1932-6203
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology
Language en
Keywords marine-sediments, phytoplankton growth, benthic communities, seagrass, ecosystems, mesocosm experiment, nitrogen fluxes, climate-change, tidal, flat, denitrification, temperature
Subject categories Water in nature and society, Biological Sciences, Climate Research


Effects of warming and nutrient enrichment on intact unvegetated shallow-water sediment were investigated for 5 weeks in the autumn under simulated natural field conditions, with a main focus on trophic state and benthic nitrogen cycling. In a flow-through system, sediment was exposed to either seawater at ambient temperature or seawater heated 4 degrees C above ambient, with either natural or nutrient enriched water. Sediment-water fluxes of oxygen and inorganic nutrients, nitrogen mineralization, and denitrification were measured. Warming resulted in an earlier shift to net heterotrophy due to increased community respiration; primary production was not affected by temperature but (slightly) by nutrient enrichment. The heterotrophic state was, however, not further strengthened by warming, but was rather weakened, probably because increased mineralization induced a shortage of labile organic matter. Climate-related warming of seawater during autumn could therefore, in contrast to previous predictions, induce shorter but more intensive heterotrophic periods in shallow-water sediments, followed by longer autotrophic periods. Increased nitrogen mineralization and subsequent effluxes of ammonium during warming suggested a preferential response of organisms driving nitrogen mineralization when compared to sinks of ammonium such as nitrification and algal assimilation. Warming and nutrient enrichment resulted in non-additive effects on nitrogen mineralization and denitrification (synergism), as well as on benthic fluxes of phosphate (antagonism). The mode of interaction appears to be related to the trophic level of the organisms that are the main drivers of the affected processes. Despite the weak response of benthic microalgae to both warming and nutrient enrichment, the assimilation of nitrogen by microalgae was similar in magnitude to rates of nitrogen mineralization. This implies a sustained filter function and retention capacity of nutrients by the sediment.

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