Anaerobic nitrogen turnover by sinking diatom aggregates at varying ambient oxygen levels

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  • Peter Stief, Biologisk Institut, Nordisk Center for Jordens Udvikling (NordCEE), Denmark
  • Anja Kamp
  • ,
  • Bo Thamdrup, Nordic Center for Earth Evolution, Institute of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark, Denmark
  • Ronnie N. Glud, Biologisk Institut, Nordisk Center for Jordens Udvikling (NordCEE), Denmark
In the world’s oceans, even relatively low oxygen levels inhibit anaerobic nitrogen cycling by free-living microbes. Sinking organic aggregates, however, might provide oxygen-depleted microbial hotspots in otherwise oxygenated surface waters. Here, we show that sinking diatom aggregates can host anaerobic nitrogen cycling at ambient oxygen levels well above the hypoxic threshold. Aggregates were produced from the ubiquitous diatom Skeletonema marinoi and the natural microbial community of seawater. Microsensor profiling through the center of sinking aggregates revealed internal anoxia at ambient 40% air saturation (∼100 μmol O2 L-1) and below. Accordingly, anaerobic nitrate turnover inside the aggregates was evident within this range of ambient oxygen levels. In incubations with 15N-labeled nitrate, individual Skeletonema aggregates produced NO2- (up to 10.7 nmol N h-1 per aggregate), N2 (up to 7.1 nmol N h-1), NH4+ (up to 2.0 nmol N h-1), and N2O (up to 0.2 nmol N h-1). Intriguingly, nitrate stored inside the diatom cells served as an additional, internal nitrate source for dinitrogen production, which may partially uncouple anaerobic nitrate turnover by diatom aggregates from direct ambient nitrate supply. Sinking diatom aggregates can contribute directly to fixed-nitrogen loss in low-oxygen environments in the ocean and vastly expand the ocean volume in which anaerobic nitrogen turnover is possible, despite relatively high ambient oxygen levels. Depending on the extent of intracellular nitrate consumption during the sinking process, diatom aggregates may also be involved in the long-distance export of nitrate to the deep ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Article number98
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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