Ecosystem metabolism of benthic and pelagic zones of a shallow productive estuary: spatio-temporal variability

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Long-term deterioration of water quality is known to reduce the importance of benthic ecosystem metabolism in shallow coastal ecosystems, but drivers of spatial and short-term variability in ecosystem metabolism are poorly understood. We addressed this knowledge gap through detailed seasonal measurements of ecosystem metabolism across depth gradients from shallow (2 to 3 m) eelgrass-dominated to deeper (4 to 5 m) muddy regions of a shallow, productive estuary. Combined measurements of gross primary production (GPP), respiration (R) and, by difference, net ecosystem production (NEP) by the open-water diel oxygen technique and in situ chamber incubations showed high importance of shallow eelgrass habitats for metabolism at the system scale. Seasonal variations in GPP, R and NEP increased with light availability and temperature with highest NEP in all habitats during the warm and sunny mid-summer. The shallow eelgrass-dominated and neighboring habitats were seasonally net autotrophic (NEP = 0.54 and 0.31 mg O2 m-2 d-1, respectively), compared to net heterotrophy (NEP = -0.26 mg O2 m-2 d-1) at the deeper muddy site. Detailed studies along depth gradients further confirmed the role of eelgrass as a key driver of spatial differences in ecosystem metabolism across the estuary. Strong northerly winds (>8 m s-1) caused short-term (<24 h) periods of similar oxygen dynamics and similar apparent productivity in shallow and deeper waters, indicative of efficient lateral mixing, while calm periods (<4 m s-1) enabled formation of ‘pockets’, i.e. water masses with limited connectivity, which exacerbated the metabolic differences between shallow and deep sites.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Ecology - Progress Series
Volume601
Pages (from-to)15-32
ISSN0171-8630
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: No match on DOI

    Research areas

  • intra-estuarine heterogeneity, benthic habitat, pelagic habitat, temporal variability, eelgrass

ID: 152181881