Microzooplankton grazing and nitrogen excretion across a surface estuarine-coastal interface



The role of the microzooplankton community in regulating phytoplankton biomass was examined across a gradient from a river-dominated estuary to an oceanic-influenced coastal zone. Three stations located along a salinity gradient from the central region of Mobile Bay to 10 km off the coast were sampled from May 1994 to August 1995. Microzooplankton herbivory rates on phytoplankton and microzooplankton excretion of nitrogen derived from phytoplankton were estimated using the dilution technique. Microzooplankton grazing rates (range of station means=0.57–1.10 d−1) and phytoplankton growth rates (0.70–1.62 d−1) both increased across the salinity gradient from the bay station to the offshore station. However, the percent of primary production grazed per day was highest at the bay station (mean=83%) and decreased to a low at the offshore station (mean=64%). Excretion of phytoplankton-derived nitrogen by the microzooplankton was greatest at the bay and bay mouth stations. Excreted nitrogen could potentially supply 39%, 29%, and 20% of phytoplankton nitrogen demand at the bay, bay mouth, and offshore stations, respectively. These results support the idea that herbivorous microzooplankton are important in mediating nitrogen flow to both lower and higher trophic levels.

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