Not All Nitrogen Is Created Equal: Differential Effects of Nitrate and Ammonium Enrichment in Coastal Wetlands

Bioscience. 2020 Dec 9;70(12):1108-1119. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biaa140. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Excess reactive nitrogen (N) flows from agricultural, suburban, and urban systems to coasts, where it causes eutrophication. Coastal wetlands take up some of this N, thereby ameliorating the impacts on nearshore waters. Although the consequences of N on coastal wetlands have been extensively studied, the effect of the specific form of N is not often considered. Both oxidized N forms (nitrate, NO3-) and reduced forms (ammonium, NH4+) can relieve nutrient limitation and increase primary production. However, unlike NH4+, NO3- can also be used as an electron acceptor for microbial respiration. We present results demonstrating that, in salt marshes, microbes use NO3- to support organic matter decomposition and primary production is less stimulated than when enriched with reduced N. Understanding how different forms of N mediate the balance between primary production and decomposition is essential for managing coastal wetlands as N enrichment and sea level rise continue to assail our coasts.

Keywords: PIE LTER; carbon cycling; nitrogen cycling; reactive nitrogen; salt marshes.