Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Iris C. anderson


Ephemeral macroalgal blooms are considered a symptom of eutrophication in shallow coastal lagoons, but their influence on nutrient cycling dynamics in these systems is not fully understood. From 2006-2008, I conducted a series of experiments to determine the influence of living and senescent macroalgae on sediment carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling in coastal lagoons along the Delmarva Peninsula, USA. In particular, I focused on how macroalgae affect the microbial community at the sediment-water interface of shallow subtidal sediments because this complex consortium of autotrophic (e.g. benthic microalgae, BMA) and heterotrophic (e.g. bacteria) organisms plays a critical role in nutrient cycling within these systems. to more accurately address microbial uptake of nutrients and organic matter from porewater and surface water sources, I designed and tested the "perfusionator," an experimental apparatus which allowed for continuous and homogenous perfusion of sediment porewater with dissolved tracers. I used the perfusionator in an outdoor mesocosm study to investigate the influence of benthic micro- and macroalgae on sediment organic matter quantity and quality using bulk and molecular level (total hydrolyzable amino acids, THAA; phospholipid linked fatty acids, PLFA) analyses. In a companion study. I further quantified C and N cycling by explicitly tracking C and N uptake into the sediments in the presence and absence of macroalgae using a dual stable isotope (H13CO3-, 15NH4+) tracer approach in combination with isotope analyses of THAA and PLFA. Together, the studies demonstrated that BMA activity, which was dominated by diatoms according to PLFA biomarkers, increased storage of C and N in surface sediments, relative to dark treatments without BMA. BMA also increased the lability of sediment organic matter, which in turn resulted in observed increases in bacterial PLFA concentrations and isotopic incorporation. Efficient shuttling of C and N between BMA and bacteria in this system served as a mechanism for retention of C and N within the sediments. Macroalgae fundamentally altered sediment C and N cycling by decreasing sediment organic matter buildup. Macroalgae also sequestered C and N, but sediment C and N uptake decreased by ∼40% when macroalgae were present. This was likely due to shading of the sediment surface by macroalgae, which decreased BMA production, which in turn decreased bacterial production. Although macroalgae are capable of sequestering significant amounts of nutrients, storage of C and N as macroalgal biomass is only temporary, as these blooms often exhibit a bloom and die-off cycle. In the final portion of this project, I traced C and N from senescing macroalgae into relevant sediment pools. A macroalgal die-off was simulated by the addition of freeze-dried macroalgae, pre-labeled with 13C and 15N, to sediment mesocosms. Bulk sediments took up label immediately following the die-off, and macroalgal C and N were retained in the sediments for >2 weeks. Approximately 6 to 50% and 2 to 9% of macroalgal N and C, respectively, were incorporated into the sediments. Label from the macroalgae appeared first in bacterial and then BMA biomarkers, suggesting that shuttling of macroalgal C and N between these communities may serve as a mechanism for retention of some macroalgal nutrients within the sediments. Together, these experiments suggest that ephemeral macroalgae diminish C and N uptake by the sediment microbial community, which may substantially impact the response of coastal bays to increased nutrient loading.



© The Author