Effects of shelter and enrichment on the ecology and nutrient cycling of microbial communities of subtidal carbonate sediments
The interactions between physical disturbances and biogeochemical cycling are fundamental to ecology. The benthic microbial community controls the major pathway of nutrient recycling in most shallow-water ecosystems. This community is strongly influenced by physical forcing and nutrient inputs. Our study tests the hypotheses that benthic microbial communities respond to shelter and enrichment with (1) increased biomass, (2) change in community composition and (3) increased uptake of inorganic nutrients from the water column. Replicate in situ plots were sheltered from physical disturbance and enriched with inorganic nutrients or left without additional nutrients. At t 0 and after 10 days, sediment-water fluxes of nutrients, O 2 and N 2, were measured, the community was characterized with biomarkers. Autochthonous benthic microalgal (BMA) biomass increased 30% with shelter and a natural fivefold increase in nutrient concentration; biomass did not increase with greater enrichment. Diatoms remained the dominant taxon of BMA, suggesting that the sediments were not N or Si limited. Bacteria and other heterotrophic organisms increased with enrichment and shelter. Daily exchanges of inorganic nutrients between sediments and the water column did not change in response to shelter or nutrient enrichment. In these sediments, physical disturbance, perhaps in conjunction with nutrient enrichment, was the primary determinant of microbial biomass.