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Benthic Bacterial And Fungal Productivity And Carbon Turnover In A Freshwater Marsh

Nanna Buesing, Mark O. Gessner

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ABSTRACT Heterotrophic bacteria and fungi are widely recognized as crucial mediators of carbon, nutrient, and energy flow in ecosystems, yet information on their total annual production in benthic habitats is lacking. To assess the significance of annual microbial production in a structurally complex system, we measured production rates of bacteria and fungi over an annual cycle in four aerobic habitats of a littoral freshwater marsh. Production rates of fungi in plant litter were substantial (0.2 to 2.4 mg C g−1 C) but were clearly outweighed by those of bacteria (2.6 to 18.8 mg C g−1 C) throughout the year. This indicates that bacteria represent the most actively growing microorganisms on marsh plant litter in submerged conditions, a finding that contrasts strikingly with results from both standing dead shoots of marsh plants and submerged plant litter decaying in streams. Concomitant measurements of microbial respiration (1.5 to 15.3 mg C-CO2 g−1 of plant litter C day−1) point to high microbial growth efficiencies on the plant litter, averaging 45.5%. The submerged plant litter layer together with the thin aerobic sediment layer underneath (average depth of 5 mm) contributed the bulk of microbial production per square meter of marsh surface (99%), whereas bacterial production in the marsh water column and epiphytic biofilms was negligible. The magnitude of the combined production in these compartments (∼1,490 g C m−2 year−1) highlights the importance of carbon flows through microbial biomass, to the extent that even massive primary productivity of the marsh plants (603 g C m−2 year−1) and subsidiary carbon sources (∼330 g C m−2 year−1) were insufficient to meet the microbial carbon demand. These findings suggest that littoral freshwater marshes are genuine hot spots of aerobic microbial carbon transformations, which may act as net organic carbon importers from adjacent systems and, in turn, emit large amounts of CO2 (here, ∼870 g C m−2 year−1) into the atmosphere.