Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Limnology and Oceanography





First Page


Last Page



As bivalve aquaculture expands worldwide, an understanding of its role in nutrient cycling is necessary to ensure ecological sustainability and determine the potential of using bivalves for nutrient mitigation. Whereas several studies, primarily of epifaunal bivalves, have assessed denitrification, few have considered nutrient regeneration processes such as dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA), which competes with denitrification for nitrate and results in nitrogen retention rather than loss. This study compares sediment nitrogen cycling including mineralization, DNRA, and denitrification within U.S. clam aquaculture sediments to nearby uncultivated sediments, seasonally. Clam aquaculture significantly increased sediment ammonium and phosphate effluxes relative to uncultivated sediments. Both DNRA and denitrification were significantly enhanced at clam beds compared to uncultivated sediments in July and November, while in May only DNRA was increased. The ratio of DNRA to denitrification was significantly higher at clam beds compared to uncultivated sediments, demonstrating that DNRA may be favored due to a ready supply of labile organic carbon relative to nitrate and perhaps sulfidic conditions. Functional gene abundances, nrfA (DNRA) and nirS (denitrification) followed similar patterns to nitrate respiration rates with highest nrfA abundances in the clam sediments and similar nirS abundances across seasons and sediment type. Ultimately clam sediments were found to be a significant source of nutrients to the water column whereas uncultivated sediments retained ammonium produced by microbial mineralization. Thus, clam cultivation may promote local eutrophication (i.e., increased primary production) by facilitating nutrient regeneration and retention of ammonium in the sediments.


Nutrient fluxes, salt-marsh, coastal sediments