Movement of new nitrogen through oceanic food webs: a stable isotope approach
Landrum, Jason Paul
MetadataShow full item record
Nitrogen (N) generally limits primary production across large areas of the world's oceans. Allochthonous inputs of N (i.e., "new" N) via N2-fixing organisms (diazotrophs) are crucial for sustaining primary production and are often associated with net export of organic matter (OM) from surface waters. Diazotroph N (ND) contribution plays an integral role in supporting oceanic food webs and regulating the flux of OM into and through the oceans (e.g., the biological pump). Stable isotope techniques were used to trace the input and movement of new N through oceanic food webs. Laboratory experiments were performed to determine elemental and isotopic shifts of OM exposed to microbial and metazoan processing. δ15N of OM was typically higher when exposed to microbial communities, with no difference in δ15N of OM between experiments incubated at different temperatures (4°C and 25°C). In separate experiments, shrimp digestion did not alter the δ15N of OM through digestion, but the δ15N of macerated OM was enriched in 15N. Both of these experiments provide insight into the mechanisms driving variations in the δ15N of OM in the world's oceans. To assess the role of diazotrophs in oceanic food webs, we used the distribution of δ15N to quantify the relative ND contribution to suspended particle N (PN) and mesozooplankton N biomass (NZOOP) in the subtropical North Atlantic (STNA). Qualitatively, ND contribution was often high for both PN and NZOOP, with the highest contributions occurring in the mixed layer. Our results also indicate higher ND contribution to both PN and NZOOP in the western portion of the basin than in the east. ND contribution to larger mesozooplankton at depth further suggests that migrating mesozooplankton transport ND out of the mixed layer. Quantitatively, ND trophic transfer efficiency was lower than bulk N trophic transfer efficiency, suggesting low assimilation of ND by mesozooplankton. Overall, we estimated a ND pool turnover time on the order of weeks for our region of study. These findings demonstrate that ND is laterally and vertically variable in the STNA, and that the ND pool is sensitive to perturbations on short timescales. We discuss the global implications of our findings and their implications for the N cycle and elemental fluxes through oligotrophic oceans.