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Use Of The [14C]Leucine Incorporation Technique To Measure Bacterial Production In River Sediments And The Epiphyton

Helmut Fischer, Martin Pusch

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ABSTRACT Bacterial production is a key parameter for the understanding of carbon cycling in aquatic ecosystems, yet it remains difficult to measure in many aquatic habitats. We therefore tested the applicability of the [14C]leucine incorporation technique for the measurement of bulk bacterial production in various habitats of a lowland river ecosystem. To evaluate the method, we determined (i) extraction efficiencies of bacterial protein from the sediments, (ii) substrate saturation of leucine in sediments, the biofilms on aquatic plants (epiphyton), and the pelagic zone, (iii) bacterial activities at different leucine concentrations, (iv) specificity of leucine uptake by bacteria, and (v) the effect of the incubation technique (perfused-core incubation versus slurry incubation) on leucine incorporation into protein. Bacterial protein was best extracted from sediments and precipitated by hot trichloroacetic acid treatment following ultrasonication. For epiphyton, an alkaline-extraction procedure was most efficient. Leucine incorporation saturation occurred at 1 μM in epiphyton and 100 nM in the pelagic zone. Saturation curves in sediments were difficult to model but showed the first level of leucine saturation at 50 μM. Increased uptake at higher leucine concentrations could be partly attributed to eukaryotes. Addition of micromolar concentrations of leucine did not enhance bacterial electron transport activity or DNA replication activity. Similar rates of leucine incorporation into protein calculated for whole sediment cores were observed after slurry and perfused-core incubations, but the rates exhibited strong vertical gradients after the core incubation. We conclude that the leucine incorporation method can measure bacterial production in a wide range of aquatic habitats, including fluvial sediments, if substrate saturation and isotope dilution are determined.