High bacterial carbon demand and low growth efficiency at a tropical hypereutrophic estuary: importance of dissolved organic matter remineralization

Mariana Guenther Eliane Gonzalez-Rodriguez Manuel Flores-Montes Moacyr Araújo Sigrid Neumann-Leitão About the authors

Abstract

Simultaneous measurements of bacterioplankton production (BP) and respiration (BR) are imperative to understand the magnitude of carbon cycle in the lower trophic levels of the aquatic systems, but are still scarce in the tropics. The present study was performed in a highly productive estuary (Recife harbor, 08°03'S; 34°52'W, NE Brazil) where bacterial carbon demand (BCD=BP+BR) and growth efficiency (BGE=BP/BCD) were evaluated in order to estimate the major role of bacterioplankton: source or sink of organic carbon. In spite of the high BP rates (0.03-0.4 µMC h-1), the extremely high BR rates (0.5-4.1 µMC h-1) led to low BGE (0.02-0.29), possibly due to the high temperatures (>25ºC) and strong inorganic nitrogen limitation (N:P ratios) The high BCD and low BGE indicate the major role of bacterioplankton as dissolved organic matter remineralizers, fueling the primary productivity of the system. These findings contradict what could be expected from studies in highly productive temperate estuaries (where BGE is usually > 0.30) and highlight the importance of increasing in situ BP and BR estimates in tropical estuarine systems in order to better understand the role of these systems in global carbon cycling.

Descriptors:
Bacterioplankton; Bacterial production; Bacterial respiration; Microbial loop; BCD; BGE

Resumo

Medidas simultâneas de produção (PB) e respiração bacterianas (RB) são indispensáveis para o entendimento da magnitude do ciclo do carbono nos níveis tróficos mais basais dos sistemas aquáticos, mas são ainda escassas nos trópicos. O presente estudo foi realizado em um estuário extremamente produtivo (Porto do Recife, 08°03'S; 34°52'W, NE do Brasil), onde a demanda bacteriana por carbono (DBC=PB+RB) e a eficiência de crescimento bacteriano (ECB=PB/DBC) foram determinadas para estimar o principal papel do bacterioplâncton: fonte ou captador de carbono orgânico. Apesar das altas taxas de PB (0.03-0.4 µMC h-1), as taxas extremas de RB (0.5-4.1 µMC h-1) levaram a baixa ECB (0.02-0.29), provavelmente devido às altas temperaturas (>25ºC) e forte limitação por nitrogênio inorgânico (razão N:P) A alta DBC e a baixa ECB indicam que o bacterioplâncton esteja atuando principalmente como remineralizador da matéria orgânica dissolvida, alimentando a produção primaria do sistema. Esses resultados contradizem o que seria esperado baseado em estudos conduzidos em estuários eutróficos temperados (onde geralmente ECB > 0.30) e apontam para a importância de se aumentar estimativas in situ de PB e RB em sistemas estuarinos tropicais a fim de se promover um melhor entendimento do papel desses sistemas na ciclagem de carbono global.

Descritores:
Bacterioplâncton; Produção bacteriana; Respiração bacteriana; Alça microbiana; DBC; ECB

INTRODUCTION

Bacterioplankton play multiple roles in aquatic systems, converting high amounts of allochthonous and autochthonous organic material into nutrients (organic remineralization) and biomass (organic production). Understanding the extent and the regulating factors of each of these bacterial metabolic pathways is thus imperative to comprehend the carbon cycle in those systems. The amount of carbon incorporated by bacterioplankton is partitioned into growth (anabolism) and maintenance processes (catabolism). The bacterial carbon demand (BCD) is thus the sum of biomass produced (=bacterial production: BP) and the energetic loss (=bacterial respiration: BR). The efficiency to which the carbon incorporated is converted into biomass, i.e., the bacterial growth efficiency (BGE) is thus estimated as BP/BCD (DEL GIORGIO; COLE, 1998DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; COLE, J. J. Bacterial growth efficiency in natural aquatic systems. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst., v. 29, p. 503-541, 1998.).

Bacterial carbon consumption has been usually derived from bacterial production rates assuming constant growth efficiencies (GASOL et al., 2008GASOL, J. M.; PINHASSI, J.; ALONSO-SÁEZ, L.; DUCKLOW, H.; HERNDL, G. J.; KOBLIZEK, M.; LABRENZ, M.; LUO, Y.; MORÁN, X. A. G.; REINTHALER, T.; SIMON, M. Towards a better understanding of microbial carbon flux in the sea. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 53, n. 1, p. 21-38, 2008.). Nevertheless, several studies showed a great spatial and temporal variability in BGE within and among systems, due to several abiotic and biotic factors like temperature, inorganic nutrients availability, dissolved organic matter (DOM) quality, light incidence and grazing pressure (APPLE; DEL GIORGIO, 2007APPLE, J. K.; DEL GIORGIO, P. A. Organic substrate quality as the link between bacterioplankton carbon demand and growth efficiency in a temperate salt-marsh estuary. Isme J., v. 1, n. 8, p. 729-742, 2007.; APPLE et al., 2006APPLE, J. K.; DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; KEMP, W. M. Temperature regulation of bacterial production, respiration, and growth efficiency in a temperate salt-marsh estuary. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 43, n. 3, p. 243-254, 2006.; ASMALA et al., 2014ASMALA, E.; AUTIO, R.; KAARTOKALLIO, H.; PITKÄNEN, L.; STEDMON, C. A.; THOMAS, D. N. Bioavailability of riverine dissolved organic matter in three Baltic Sea estuaries and the effect of catchment land use. Biogeosciences, v. 10, n. 11, p. 6969-6986, 2014.; BERGGREN et al., 2010BERGGREN, M.; LAUDON, H.; JONSSON, A.; JANSSON, M. Nutrient constraints on metabolism affect the temperature regulation of aquatic bacterial growth efficiency. Microb. Ecol., v. 60, n. 4, p. 894-902, 2010.; CORY et al., 2010CORY, R. M.; MCNEILL, K.; COTNER, J. P.; AMADO, A.; PURCELL, J. M.; MARSHALL, A. G. Singlet oxygen in the coupled photochemical and biochemical oxidation of dissolved organic matter. Environ. Sci. Technol., v. 44, n. 10, p. 3683-3689, 2010.; RAM et al., 2003RAM, A. S. P.; NAIR, S.; CHANDRAMOHAN, D. Bacterial Growth Efficiency in the Tropical Estuarine and Coastal Waters of Goa, Southwest Coast of India. Microb. Ecol., v. 45, n. 1, p. 88-96. 2003.). The need for simultaneous in situ estimates of bacterial production and respiration rates became thus imperative to accurately evaluate the bacterial carbon metabolism in the aquatic systems and understand its regulation.

Estuarine systems are increasingly subject to eutrophication processes due to the rapid population growth and consequent density increase along the coast (DAY et al., 2013DAY JR, J. W.; CRUMP, B. C.; KEMP, W. M.; YÁÑEZ-ARANCIBIA, A. Estuarine Ecology. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.). The high and continuous input of allochthonous nutrients and organic material from the surrounding lands and the domestic sewage leads to high phytoplankton and bacterial growth (BARRERA-ALBA et al., 2008BARRERA-ALBA, J. J.; GIANESELLA, S. M. F.; MOSER, G. A. O.; SALDANHA-CORREA, F. M. P. Bacterial and phytoplankton dynamics in a sub-tropical estuary. Hydrobiologia, v. 598, n. 1, p. 229-246, 2008.; GAULKE et al., 2010GAULKE, A. K.; WETZ, M. S.; PAERL, H. W. Picophytoplankton: A major contributor to planktonic biomass and primary production in a eutrophic, river-dominated estuary. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci, v. 90, n. 1, p. 45-54, 2010.; GUENTHER; VALENTIN, 2008bGUENTHER, M.; VALENTIN, J. L. Bacterial and phytoplankton production in two coastal systems influenced by distinct eutrophication processes. Oecol Bras., v. 12, n. 1, p. 172-178, 2008b.; MORTAZAVI et al.; 2012MORTAZAVI, B.; RIGGS, A. A.; CAFFREY, J. M.; GENET, H.; PHIPPS, S. W. The Contribution of Benthic Nutrient Regeneration to Primary Production in a Shallow Eutrophic Estuary, Weeks Bay, Alabama. Estuar. Coast, v. 35, n. 3, p. 862-877, 2012.; SCHUMANN et al., 2003SCHUMANN, R.; RIELING, T.; GÖRS, S.; HAMMER, A.; SELIG, U.; SCHIEWER, U. Viability of bacteria from different aquatic habitats. I. Environmental conditions and productivity. Aquat. Microb. Ecol. , v. 32, n. 2, p. 121-135, 2003.; YUAN et al., 2010YUAN, X.; YIN, K.; HARRISON, P. J.; CAI, W. J.; HE, L.; XU, J. Bacterial production and respiration in subtropical Hong Kong waters: influence of the Pearl River discharge and sewage effluent. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 58, n. 2, p. 167-179, 2010.). However, most of estuarine BGE in situ estimates were performed in temperate zones, with few exceptions on the tropics (GUENTHER et al., 2008aGUENTHER, M.; PARANHOS, R.; REZENDE, C. E.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; VALENTIN, J. L. Dynamics of bacterial carbon metabolism at the entrance of a tropical eutrophic bay influenced by tidal oscillation. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 50, n. 2, p. 123-133, 2008a.; LEE et al., 2009LEE, C. W.; BONG, C. W.; HII, Y. S. Temporal variation of bacterial respiration and growth efficiency in tropical coastal waters. Appl. Environ. Microbiol., v. 75, n. 24, p. 7594-7601, 2009.; RAM et al., 2003RAM, A. S. P.; NAIR, S.; CHANDRAMOHAN, D. Bacterial Growth Efficiency in the Tropical Estuarine and Coastal Waters of Goa, Southwest Coast of India. Microb. Ecol., v. 45, n. 1, p. 88-96. 2003.; RAM et al., 2007RAM, A. S. P.; NAIR, S.; CHANDRAMOHAN, D. Bacterial growth efficiency in a tropical estuary: Seasonal variability subsidized by allochthonous carbon. Microb. Ecol., v. 53, n. 4, p. 591-599, 2007.).

In the most comprehensive review on BGE to date, DEL GIORGIO and COLE (1998)DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; COLE, J. J. Bacterial growth efficiency in natural aquatic systems. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst., v. 29, p. 503-541, 1998. verified a direct correlation between BGE and the trophic status of the system, ranging from 1% at the most oligotrophic open ocean sites to near 50% at eutrophic coastal-estuarine systems. Since then, the vast majority of studies still corroborate this pattern: BGE >30% on average in more productive areas, such as upwelling and estuarine systems (ASMALA et al., 2014ASMALA, E.; AUTIO, R.; KAARTOKALLIO, H.; PITKÄNEN, L.; STEDMON, C. A.; THOMAS, D. N. Bioavailability of riverine dissolved organic matter in three Baltic Sea estuaries and the effect of catchment land use. Biogeosciences, v. 10, n. 11, p. 6969-6986, 2014.; DEL GIORGIO; NEWELL, 2012DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; NEWELL, R. E. I. Phosphorus and DOC availability influence the partitioning between bacterioplankton production and respiration in tidal marsh ecosystems. Environ. Microbiol., v. 14, n. 5, p. 1296-1307, 2012.; FUENTES et al., 2012FUENTES, M.; ESCRIBANO, R.; CUEVAS, L. A. Bacterial response to a weak 2006 El Niño condition in an upwelling area of the Humboldt Current System. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K., v. 92, n. 1, 1-12, 2012.; GUENTHER et al., 2008), and BGE < 20% on average at oceanic sites (ALONSO-SÁEZ et al., 2007ALONSO-SÁEZ, L.; GASOL, J. M.; ARÍSTEGUI, J.; VILAS, J. C.; VAQUÉ, D.; DUARTE, C. M.; AGUSTÍ, S. Large-scale variability in surface bacterial carbon demand and growth efficiency in the subtropical northeast Atlantic Ocean. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 52, n. 2, p. 533-546, 2007.; DEL GIORGIO et al., 2011DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; CONDON, R.; BOUVIER, T.; LONGNECKER, K.; BOUVIER, C.; SHERR, E.; GASOL, J. M. Coherent patterns in bacterial growth, growth efficiency, and leucine metabolism along a northeastern Pacific inshore-offshore transect. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 56, n. 1, p. 1-16, 2011.; LØNBORG et al., 2013LØNBORG, C.; MARTÍNEZ-GARCÍA, S.; TEIRA, E.; ÁLVAREZ-SALGADO, X. A. Effects of the photochemical transformation of dissolved organic matter on bacterial physiology and diversity in a coastal system. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., v. 129, p. 11-18, 2013.; REINTHALER et al., 2008REINTHALER, T.; SINTES, E.; HERNDL, G. J. Dissolved organic matter and bacterial production and respiration in the sea-surface microlayer of the open Atlantic and the western Mediterranean Sea. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 53, n. 1, p. 122-136, 2008.). This means that in most eutrophic systems, bacterioplankton act more as a source of organic carbon for the higher consumers.

In the present study, we aimed to evaluate the main role of bacterioplankton (i.e., source or sink of organic carbon) in a hypereutrophic tropical estuarine system (Recife harbor, NE Brazil) through simultaneous BP and BR in situ measurements and BCD and BGE calculation. Despite the high bacterial production, bacterial growth efficiency was low due to high bacterial respiration rates. The role of temperature and nitrogen limitation in the regulation of bacterial carbon metabolism in this system is then discussed.

MATERIAL AND METHODS

Study site

The Recife harbor (08°03’S; 34°52’W, Recife - PE, Brazil) is a hypereutrophic well-mixed estuary with high primary production rates (GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.). Situated in a densely populated area of the city, it is supplied by three urban and intensely polluted rivers: the Pina, Capibaribe and Beberibe. It is a long, narrow and shallow system (7 km long, 250-1000 m wide and 1-12 m deep) connected to the ocean by a 300 m wide mouth, and also influenced by the marine spray crossing the long (4 km) and thin (30 m) beach rock reef that separates it from the ocean (Fig. 1). Tides are semidiurnal with maximum ranges of 2.3 m. Tidal currents are strong (30 cm s-1 on average), leading to residence times of 5-9 h, shorter than a complete tidal cycle (GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.). The local climate is tropical humid with dry summers and wet winters (KÖPPEN, 1900KÖPPEN, W. Versuch einer Klassifikation der Klimate, vorzugsweise nach ihren Beziehungen zur Pflanzenwelt. Geogr. Zeits., v. 6, n. 11, p. 593-611, 1900.).

Figure 1
Map of the Recife harbor, located at the city of Recife - PE, northeastern coast of Brazil, showing its major rivers and the three sampling stations.

Experimental design and sample analyses

The samplings were performed at three stations located at distinct sections of the estuary: #1 - outer (12 m deep), #2 - middle (9 m deep) and #3 - inner (3 m deep) (Fig. 1), during both ebb and flood tides, every 3 months during a year (January, April, July and October, 2008). The months sampled represent the wet (April and July) and dry (October and January) seasons (see GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.). The stations were sampled opposed to the water flow, i.e., from the outer to the inner estuary during the ebb tide and conversely during the flood tide. The water samples were collected with 10L Niskin bottles at the subsurface layer for dissolved inorganic nutrients, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved oxygen (DO) contents, pH and bacterial production (BP) and respiration (BR) incubation experiments. Temperature and salinity were obtained in situ through a portable thermometer and refractometer.

Nutrients, DOC and DO contents of each sample were determined in triplicates (or more when needed) in the laboratory within 1 h collection following the methods proposed by GRASSHOFF et al. (1983)GRASSHOFF, K. A.; EHRHARDT, M.; KREMLING, K. Methods for seawater analysis. Weinheim: Verlag Chemie, 1983. for ammonium (N-NH4), nitrite (N-NO2), nitrate (N-NO3) and phosphate (P-PO4), STRICKLAND and PARSONS (1972)STRICKLAND, J. D. H.; PARSONS, T. A Practical Handbook of Seawater Analysis. Ottawa: Fisheries Research Board of Canada. v. 167, 1972. 311 p. for DOC, and AMINOT and CHAUSSEPIED (1983)AMINOT, A.; CHAUSSEPIED, M. Manuel des analyses chimiques en milieu marinBrest: Centre National pour l’Exploitation des Océans, 1983. 395 p. for DO. The pH was measured with a pH meter Gehaka PG2000.

Bacterial production rates were determined through 3H-leucine incorporation (SMITH; AZAM, 1992SMITH, D. C.; AZAM, F. A simple, economical method for measuring bacterial protein synthesis rates in seawater using 3H-leucine. Mar. Microb. food webs, v. 6, n. 2, p. 107-114, 1992.). Samples and controls (1.3 mL) were incubated in triplicates in 2.0 mL sterile polypropylene tubes with L-[4,5-3H] leucine at a 10 nM final concentration, based on previous saturation curves. Controls were immediately fixed in 90 µL 100% ice-cold trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and samples were incubated for 1h at room temperature in the dark. Incubation was halted with 90 µL 100% ice-cold TCA and the isotopic activity of the samples was determined in a Beckman LS6000SC scintillation counter. Bacterial carbon production was calculated using a protein/carbon conversion factor of 0.86 (SIMON; AZAM, 1989SIMON, M.; AZAM, F. Protein-content and protein-synthesis rates of planktonic marine-bacteria. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., v. 51, p. 201-213, 1989.).

Bacterial respiration rates were measured through dissolved oxygen consumption in the picoplankton (<2.0 mm) fraction. Samples were previously filtered through 2.0 mm polycarbonate membranes and incubated in situ in 150 mL borosilicate bottles (triplicates) for 24h. The initial DO concentrations were also determined in triplicate samples immediately fixed with Winkler reagents (manganese sulfide and alkaline iodine). Dissolved oxygen contents of each sample were determined in triplicates following the Winkler’s titration method (AMINOT; CHAUSSEPIED, 1983AMINOT, A.; CHAUSSEPIED, M. Manuel des analyses chimiques en milieu marinBrest: Centre National pour l’Exploitation des Océans, 1983. 395 p.). Bacterial respiration rates were estimated using a respiration quotient (RQ) of 1.0 (BIDDANDA et al., 1994BIDDANDA, B.; OPSAHL, S.; BENNER, R. Plankton respiration and carbon flux through bacterioplankton on the Louisiana Shelf. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 39, n. 6, p. 1259-1275, 1994.). It is important to note that BR rates include also autotrophic picoplankton respiration.

Bacterial carbon demand (BCD) was calculated as BP+BR, and bacterial growth efficiency (BGE) as BP/BCD (DEL GIORGIO; COLE, 1998DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; COLE, J. J. Bacterial growth efficiency in natural aquatic systems. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst., v. 29, p. 503-541, 1998.). The DOC turnover time through bacterioplankton (day -1) was estimated as the ratio between the DOC content and the BCD at each sample.

The meteorological conditions and the circulation dynamics of this system during this period have been presented and discussed elsewhere (GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.).

Data analyses

For each variable, differences between tidal periods (ebb and flood) and among stations (outer, middle and inner) and months (January, April, July, October) were verified using a Mann-Whitney U test (for two groups: tidal periods) or a Kruskal-Wallis test (for multiple groups: stations and months), as data were not normally distributed (based on Kolmogorov-Smirnov test). The measured variables were compared through Pearson’s correlations.

RESULTS

Abiotic variables

Some abiotic variables sampled presented significant seasonal variations (Table 1). Spatial or tidal statistical differences, however, were not observed. Water temperature ranged from 25ºC to 30ºC, higher in January and April (30ºC) than in July: 25ºC (H=19.5; p=0.0002), and salinity ranged from 26 to 36, being slightly lower at the inner (#3) than the outer (#1) station, although not statistically different (H=4.01; p=0.13).

Table 1
Range and average values (in parentheses) of the abiotic variables at each month sampled. Variables marked with asterisks showed significant variations among months at p<0.05 (*), p<0.01 (**) and p<0.001 levels (***). In these, treatments with the same symbol are not significant different from each other, based on the Kruskal-Wallis test.

Ammonium contents ranged from 0.4 to 5.2 µM, while the oxidized nitrogen (N) forms (N-NO2+N-NO3) ranged from 0.6 to 8.3 µM. These N forms constituted the major fraction of total dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN): N-NO2/NO3=62% of DIN, on average, and N-NH4=38%. Phosphate contents ranged from 0.4 to 12 µM and the DIN:DIP ratios varied from 0.8 to 5.7 (Fig. 2). Dissolved organic carbon contents ranged from 475 to 942 µM. Dissolved oxygen contents ranged from 179 - 402 µM) and the pH ranged from 8.0 to 8.5.

Figure 2
Dissolved inorganic nitrogen (N-NO3/NO2 and N-NH4) and phosphorous (P-PO4) contents and the DIN:DIP ratio (N:P) at the three sampled stations: #1 (outer), #2 (middle), #3 (inner) during ebb and flood tides and the four months sampled: January, April, July and October.

The N-NO2/NO3 contents increased from January and April (3.3 µM on average) to July: 6.1 µM (H=8.23; p=0.04). The DO contents decreased from April, beginning of the wet season: 262 µM (on average), to October, beginning of the dry season: 234 µM, on average (H=11.1; p=0.01). The pH also decreased from January (pH=8.4) to July: pH=8.1 (H=12.5; p=0.005).

Bacterial metabolic rates

Bacterial metabolic rates were highly variable throughout the year studied with no significant differences between tidal phases or among stations or months (Fig. 3). Bacterial production (BP) ranged from 0.03 to 0.4 µM C h-1 (0.24 µM C h-1 on average, CV=42%), bacterial respiration (BR) ranged from 0.5 to 4.1 µM C h-1 (1.72 µM C h-1 on average, CV=58%), bacterial carbon demand (BCD=BP+BR) ranged from 0.6 to 4.5 µM C h-1 (1.96 µM C h-1 on average, CV=54%) and bacterial growth efficiency (BGE=BCD/BR) varied from 2 to 29% (13% on average, CV=47%). The DOC turnover time through bacterioplankton consumption (DOC/BCD) ranged from 5 to 44 days (20 days on average, CV=54%).

Figure 3
Bacterial production (BP) and respiration (RB) (top panel) and bacterial carbon demand (BCD) and growth efficiency (BGE) (bottom panel) at the three sampled stations: #1 (outer), #2 (middle), #3 (inner) during ebb and flood tides and the four months sampled: January, April, July and October.

The correlation matrix of all variables sampled showed that BP and BR rates were directly correlated to each other (r=0.58; p=0.003). The BP rates were also directly correlated to N-NH4 contents (r=0.53; p=0.01) and P-PO4 contents (r=0.76; p<0.001). The BR rates were directly correlated to P-PO4 contents (r=0.56; p=0.004) and inversely correlated to BGE (r= -0.46; p=0.022) (Table 2).

Table 2
Pearson correlation coefficients between the variables sampled and estimated at Recife harbor. Temp=temperature; Sal=salinity; DO=dissolved oxygen; DOC=dissolved organic carbon; BP=bacterial production; BR=bacterial respiration; BGE=bacterial growth efficiency. Asterisks mean significant correlations at p<0.05 (*), p<0.01 (**) and p<0.001 levels (***). Not significant correlations (p>0.05) are not shown (-).

DISCUSSION

Bacterial carbon metabolism at Recife harbor varied greatly, without a clear tidal, seasonal or spatial pattern. In spite of the high bacterial production, the extreme bacterial respiration rates led to low bacterial growth efficiencies, indicating that bacterioplankton are acting more as organic material remineralizers than biomass source for the higher trophic levels.

The high variability in BP, BR, BCD and BGE, also observed in other tropical estuaries (GUENTHER et al., 2008; RAM et al., 2007RAM, A. S. P.; NAIR, S.; CHANDRAMOHAN, D. Bacterial growth efficiency in a tropical estuary: Seasonal variability subsidized by allochthonous carbon. Microb. Ecol., v. 53, n. 4, p. 591-599, 2007.), was already expected due to the high hydrodynamic complexity of this system (GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.). Although the BP rates measured in Recife harbor were similar, on average, to other tropical and temperate estuaries (APPLE; DEL GIORGIO, 2007APPLE, J. K.; DEL GIORGIO, P. A. Organic substrate quality as the link between bacterioplankton carbon demand and growth efficiency in a temperate salt-marsh estuary. Isme J., v. 1, n. 8, p. 729-742, 2007.; DEL GIORGIO; NEWELL, 2012; GUENTHER et al., 2008; RAM et al., 2003), the BR rates were higher, leading to lower BGE (see Table 3). Bacterial respiration rates were more variable than BP rates and inversely correlated to BGE (see Table 2) which suggest that BGE variations are better explained by BR.

Table 3
Mean bacterial production rates (BP), bacterial respiration rates (BR) and bacterial growth efficiency (BGE) from the present study and other tropical and temperate estuarine systems.

Temperature strongly influences bacterial carbon metabolism (MADIGAN et al., 2010MADIGAN, M. T.; MARTINKO, J. M.; STAHL, D.; CLARK, D. P. Brock Biology of Microorganisms. 13th ed. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings, 2010.). Warmer conditions enhance metabolic rates (BROWN et al., 2004BROWN, J. H.; GILLOOLY, J. F.; ALLEN, A. P.; SAVAGE, V. M.; WEST, G. B. Toward a metabolic theory of ecology. Ecology, v. 85, n. 7, p. 1771-1789, 2004.), which also leads to higher energetic loss (MACLEAN, 2008MACLEAN, R. C. The tragedy of the commons in microbial populations: insights from theoretical, comparative and experimental studies. Heredity (Edinb), v. 100, n. 5, p. 471-477, 2008.; PFEIFFER et al., 2001PFEIFFER, T.; SCHUSTER, S.; BONHOEFFER, S. Cooperation and competition in the evolution of ATP-producing pathways. Science, v. 292, n. 5516, p. 504-507, 2001.). Therefore, water temperatures are often directly correlated to bacterial production and respiration (JIMENEZ-MERCADO et al., 2007JIMENÉZ-MERCADO, A.; CAJAL-MEDRANO, R.; MASKE, H. Marine heterotrophic bacteria in continuous culture, the bacterial carbon growth efficiency, and mineralization at excess substrate and different temperatures. Microb. Ecol., v. 54, n. 1, p. 56-64, 2007.; KIRCHMAN et al., 2005KIRCHMAN, D. L.; MALMSTROM, R. R.; COTTRELL, M. T. Control of bacterial growth by temperature and organic matter in the Western Arctic. Deep Sea Res. Part II: Top. Stud. Oceanogr., v. 52, n. 24-26, p. 3386-3395, 2005.; POMEROY et al., 1995POMEROY, L. R.; SHELDON, J. E.; SHELDON, W. M.; PETERS, F. Limits to growth and respiration of bacterioplankton in the Gulf of Mexico. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., v. 117, n. 1-3, p. 259-268, 1995.; RAYMOND; BAUER, 2000RAYMOND, P. A.; BAUER, J. E. Bacterial consumption of DOC during transport through a temperate estuary. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 22, n. 1, p. 1-12, 2000.; SAMPOU; KEMP, 1994SAMPOU, P.; KEMP, W. M. Factors regulating plankton community respiration in Chesapeake bay. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., v. 110, p. 249-258, 1994.; SHIAH; DUCKLOW, 1994SHIAH, F. K.; DUCKLOW, H. W. Temperature and substrate regulation of bacterial abundance, production and specific growth rate in Chesapeake Bay, USA. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., v. 103, p. 297-308, 1994.). When the effects of temperature on BR are higher than on BP due to this increase in energy expenditure, higher temperatures may result in lower BGE (AMADO et al., 2013AMADO, A. M.; MEIRELLES-PEREIRA, F.; VIDAL, L. O.; SARMENTO, H.; SUHETT, A. L.; FARJALLA, V. F.; COTNER, J. B.; ROLAND, F. Tropical freshwater ecosystems have lower bacterial growth efficiency than temperate ones. Front. Microbiol., v. 4, p. 167, 2013.; APPLE et al., 2006APPLE, J. K.; DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; KEMP, W. M. Temperature regulation of bacterial production, respiration, and growth efficiency in a temperate salt-marsh estuary. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 43, n. 3, p. 243-254, 2006.; BERGGREN et al., 2010BERGGREN, M.; LAUDON, H.; JONSSON, A.; JANSSON, M. Nutrient constraints on metabolism affect the temperature regulation of aquatic bacterial growth efficiency. Microb. Ecol., v. 60, n. 4, p. 894-902, 2010.; GUENTHER et al., 2008; HALL; COTNER, 2007HALL, E. K.; COTNER, J. B. Interactive effect of temperature and resources on carbon cycling by freshwater bacterioplankton communities. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 49, n. 1, p. 35-45, 2007.; RIVKIN; LEGENDRE, 2001RIVKIN, R. B.; LEGENDRE, L. Biogenic carbon cycling in the upper ocean: effects of microbial respiration. Science, v. 291, n. 5512, p. 2398-2400, 2001.). Temperatures at Recife harbor are high throughout the year (25-30ºC), which led to high bacterial production but even higher bacterial respiration rates. Indeed, previous studies performed in tropical estuarine waters showed lower BR rates (BRmax=0.7 µM C h-1) where maximum temperatures were around 25ºC (GUENTHER et al., 2008) and higher BR rates (0.7 - 3.3 µM C h-1) at higher temperature ranges: 27-32ºC (LEE et al., 2009LEE, C. W.; BONG, C. W.; HII, Y. S. Temporal variation of bacterial respiration and growth efficiency in tropical coastal waters. Appl. Environ. Microbiol., v. 75, n. 24, p. 7594-7601, 2009.; RAM et al., 2003RAM, A. S. P.; NAIR, S.; CHANDRAMOHAN, D. Bacterial Growth Efficiency in the Tropical Estuarine and Coastal Waters of Goa, Southwest Coast of India. Microb. Ecol., v. 45, n. 1, p. 88-96. 2003.).

Nutrient availability also plays a major role in regulating bacterial carbon metabolism (ASMALA et al., 2014ASMALA, E.; AUTIO, R.; KAARTOKALLIO, H.; PITKÄNEN, L.; STEDMON, C. A.; THOMAS, D. N. Bioavailability of riverine dissolved organic matter in three Baltic Sea estuaries and the effect of catchment land use. Biogeosciences, v. 10, n. 11, p. 6969-6986, 2014.; BERGGREN et al., 2010BERGGREN, M.; LAUDON, H.; JONSSON, A.; JANSSON, M. Nutrient constraints on metabolism affect the temperature regulation of aquatic bacterial growth efficiency. Microb. Ecol., v. 60, n. 4, p. 894-902, 2010.; GASOL et al., 2009GASOL, J. M.; VÁZQUEZ-DOMÍNGUEZ, E.; VAQUÉ, D.; AGUSTÍ, S.; DUARTE, C. M. Bacterial activity and diffusive nutrient supply in the oligotrophic Central Atlantic Ocean. Aquat. Microb. Ecol, v. 56, n. 1, p. 1-12, 2009.; SMITH; KEMP, 2003SMITH, E. M.; KEMP, W. M. Planktonic and bacterial respiration along an estuarine gradient: responses to carbon and nutrient enrichment. Aquat. Microb. Ecol. , v. 30, n. 3, p. 251-261, 2003.). Bacterial uptake of DOM follows a rather constant ratio: C:N:P ~ 50:10:1 (FAGERBAKKE et al., 1996FAGERBAKKE, K. M.; HELDAL, M.; NORLAND, S. Content of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and phosphorus in native aquatic and cultured bacteria. Aquat. Microb. Ecol, v. 10, n. 1, p. 15-27, 1996.; GOLDMAN et al., 1987GOLDMAN, J. C.; CARON, D. A.; DENNETT, M. R. Regulation of gross growth efficiency and ammonium regeneration in bacteria by substrate C: N ratio. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 32, n. 6, p. 1239-1252, 1987.). When DOM is depleted in N or P, they can balance their stoichiometric requirements by increasing inorganic N or P uptake (CHURCH, 2008CHURCH, M. J. Resource control of bacterial dynamics in the sea. In: KIRCHMAN, D. L. Microbial Ecology of the Oceans. 2nd ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. p. 335-382.; KIRCHMAN, 1994KIRCHMAN, D. L. The uptake of inorganic nutrients by heterotrophic bacteria. Microb. Ecol., v. 28, n. 2, p. 255-271, 1994.), which is achieved via the activation of metabolic pathways, raising respiration rates and lowering growth yield and BGE (HESSEN; ANDERSON, 2008HESSEN, D. O.; ANDERSON, T. R. Excess carbon in aquatic organisms and ecosystems: Physiological, ecological, and evolutionary implications. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 53, n. 4, p. 1685-1696, 2008.; JANSSON et al., 2006JANSSON, M.; BERGSTRÖM, A. K.; LYMER, D.; VREDE, K.; KARLSSON, J. Bacterioplankton growth and nutrient use efficiencies under variable organic carbon and inorganic phosphorus ratios. Microb. Ecol., v. 52, n. 2, p. 358-364, 2006.).

At Recife harbor, although we did not measure DON or DOP contents, and thus cannot estimate DOM C:N:P ratios, the low DIN:DIP ratios (0.8 - 5.7) due to the large P-PO4 inputs from domestic sewage and agriculture runoff, indicate inorganic nitrogen limitation. Moreover, the N-NH4 contents, the most readily available inorganic N form for bacterioplankton (CHURCH, 2008CHURCH, M. J. Resource control of bacterial dynamics in the sea. In: KIRCHMAN, D. L. Microbial Ecology of the Oceans. 2nd ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. p. 335-382.; VALLINO et al., 1996), represented, on average, a minor fraction of total DIN (38%). Inorganic nitrogen limitation of bacterial production and growth efficiency has been widely reported in both batch cultures and natural systems experiments (CARLSSON et al., 2012CARLSSON, P.; GRANÉLI, E.; GRANÉLI, W.; RODRIGUEZ, E. G.; CARVALHO, W. F.; BRUTEMARK, A.; LINDEHOFF, E. Bacterial and phytoplankton nutrient limitation in tropical marine waters, and a coastal lake in Brazil. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol., v. 418-419, p. 37-45, 2012.; CHURCH et al., 2000CHURCH, M. J.; HUTCHINS, D. A.; DUCKLOW, H. W. Limitation of bacterial growth by dissolved organic matter and iron in the Southern Ocean. Appl. Environ. Microbiol., v. 66, n. 2, p. 455-466, 2000.; KROER, 1993KROER, N. Bacterial-growth efficiency on natural dissolved organic-matter. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 38, n. 6, p. 1282-1290, 1993.; ORTEGA-RETUERTA et al., 2012ORTEGA-RETUERTA, E.; JEFFREY, W. H.; GHIGLIONE, J. F.; JOUX, F. Evidence of heterotrophic prokaryotic activity limitation by nitrogen in the Western Arctic Ocean during summer. Polar Biol, v. 35, n. 5, p. 785-794, 2012.), some of them showing a higher dependency of BGE on inorganic nitrogen than on DOM quality (ASMALA et al., 2014ASMALA, E.; AUTIO, R.; KAARTOKALLIO, H.; PITKÄNEN, L.; STEDMON, C. A.; THOMAS, D. N. Bioavailability of riverine dissolved organic matter in three Baltic Sea estuaries and the effect of catchment land use. Biogeosciences, v. 10, n. 11, p. 6969-6986, 2014.; LØNBORG et al., 2011LØNBORG, C.; MARTÍNEZ-GARCÍA, S.; TEIRA, E.; ÁLVAREZ-SALGADO, X. A. Bacterial carbon demand and growth efficiency in a coastal upwelling system. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 63, n. 2, p. 183-191, 2011.). The direct correlation between BP and N-NH4 (r=0.53; p=0.01) and the absence of correlation between BP and the N-oxidized forms (r=0.25; p=0.23) suggests a higher reliability of bacterioplankton on ammonium contents in this system.

The higher BGE observed in the more productive estuarine systems is usually correlated to the nutrient availability and/or DOM quality (APPLE; DEL GIORGIO, 2007APPLE, J. K.; DEL GIORGIO, P. A. Organic substrate quality as the link between bacterioplankton carbon demand and growth efficiency in a temperate salt-marsh estuary. Isme J., v. 1, n. 8, p. 729-742, 2007.; ASMALA et al., 2014ASMALA, E.; AUTIO, R.; KAARTOKALLIO, H.; PITKÄNEN, L.; STEDMON, C. A.; THOMAS, D. N. Bioavailability of riverine dissolved organic matter in three Baltic Sea estuaries and the effect of catchment land use. Biogeosciences, v. 10, n. 11, p. 6969-6986, 2014.; DEL GIORGIO; NEWELL, 2012DEL GIORGIO, P. A.; NEWELL, R. E. I. Phosphorus and DOC availability influence the partitioning between bacterioplankton production and respiration in tidal marsh ecosystems. Environ. Microbiol., v. 14, n. 5, p. 1296-1307, 2012.; GUENTHER et al., 2008) which support bacterial growth (BP) with less maintenance energy costs (BR). The DOM quality (or lability) is defined by its nutritional value (stoichiometric balanced C:N:P ratio), diagenetic state (freshly leached vs. microbial processed), as well as molecular size (low vs. high molecular weight) and shape (degree of aromaticity), irrespective of its allochthonous or autochthonous origin (AMON; BENNER, 1996AMON, R. M. W.; BENNER, R. Bacterial utilization of different size classes of dissolved organic matter. Limnol Oceanogr, v. 41, n. 1, p. 41-51, 1996.; ATTERMEYER et al., 2014ATTERMEYER, K.; HORNICK, T.; KAYLER, Z. E.; BAHR, A.; ZWIRNMANN, E.; GROSSART, H. P.; PREMKE, K. Enhanced bacterial decomposition with increasing addition of autochthonous to allochthonous carbon without any effect on bacterial community composition. Biogeosciences, v. 11, n. 6, p. 1479-1489, 2014.; GOLDMAN et al., 1987GOLDMAN, J. C.; CARON, D. A.; DENNETT, M. R. Regulation of gross growth efficiency and ammonium regeneration in bacteria by substrate C: N ratio. Limnol. Oceanogr., v. 32, n. 6, p. 1239-1252, 1987.). The relatively rapid estimated DOC turnover through bacterioplankton consumption at Recife harbor, from a few days to a little more than a month (5 to 44 days), suggests that the DOM content range from labile to semi labile (CARLSON, 2002CARLSON, C. A. Production and removal processes. In: HANSELL, D. A.; CARLSON, C. A. (Eds.). Biogeochemistry of Marine Dissolved Organic Matter. San Diego: Academic Press, 2002. p. 91-150.).

Phytoplankton-derived DOM represents an important labile source for bacterioplankton supporting high bacterial growth in both batch-cultures and mesocosms experiments (BELL; SAKSHAUG, 1980BELL, W. H.; SAKSHAUG, E. Bacterial utilization of algal extracellular products. 2. A kinetic-study of natural-populations. Limnol. Oceanogr, v. 25, n. 6, p. 1021-1033, 1980.; CHERRIER et al., 1996CHERRIER, J.; BAUER, J. E.; DRUFFEL, E. R. M. Utilization and turnover of labile dissolved organic matter by bacterial heterotrophs in eastern north Pacific surface waters. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., v. 139, p. 267-279, 1996.; CHRZANOWSKI; HUBBARD, 1989CHRZANOWSKI, T. H.; HUBBARD, J. G. Bacterial utilization of algal extracellular products in a southwestern reservoir. Hydrobiologia, v. 179, n. 1, p. 61-71, 1989.). At Recife harbor a considerable amount of phytoplankton exudates is expected due to the high primary production rates (GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.). Moreover, the high domestic sewage input at this system can be even more labile for bacterial growth than autochthonous phytoplankton-derived DOM (XU et al., 2013XU, J.; JING, H.; KONG, L.; SUN, M.; HARRISON, P. J.; LIU, H. Effect of seawater-sewage cross-transplants on bacterial metabolism and diversity. Microb. Ecol., v. 66, n. 1, p. 60-72, 2013.; XU et al., 2014XU, J.; SUN, M. M.; SHI, Z.; HARRISON, P. J.; LIU, H. B. Response of bacterial metabolic activity to riverine dissolved organic carbon and exogenous viruses in estuarine and coastal waters: implications for CO2 emission. Plos ONE, v. 9, n. 7, p. e102490, 2014.). Thus, it is possible that despite the high nutrient input and supposed labile to semi labile DOM contents, the low DIN:DIP ratios are hindering BGE through increasing BR at Recife harbor. Future research should thus focus on DOM stoichiometry and chemical composition along with bacterial uptake experiments to quantify the major available DOM sources in this system and verify the hypothesis of inorganic nitrogen limitation of bacterial growth raised in the present study.

CONCLUSIONS

The high temperatures and the inorganic nitrogen limitation due to large allochthonous P-PO4 loadings are the main factors driving the high BR rates and, hence, the low BGE observed at Recife harbor, in spite of the high primary productivity. These results highlight the importance of increasing in situ BP and BR estimates in eutrophic tropical estuaries, in order to reevaluate the established direct correlation between BGE and productivity based mostly on temperate systems.

The high bacterial carbon demand and the relatively rapid DOC turnover indicate that huge amounts of DOM are channeled through bacterioplankton, showing the importance of this compartment in organic material recycling at this hypereutrophic system. The low BGE, however, means that most of this up taken DOM is released as inorganic nutrients and CO2 to the water column. The high bacterial production, similar to other tropical and temperate estuarine systems, suggests that this compartment also plays an important role as biomass sources for the next trophic levels (BONG; LEE, 2011BONG, C. W.; LEE, C. W. The contribution of heterotrophic nanoflagellate grazing towards bacterial mortality in tropical waters: comparing estuaries and coastal ecosystems. Mar. Freshw. Res., v. 62, n. 4, p. 414-420, 2011.; TROUSSELLIER et al., 2005TROUSSELLIER, M.; GOT, P.; MBOUP, M.; CORBIN, D.; GIULIANO, L.; CAPPELLO, S.; BOUVY, M. Daily bacterioplankton dynamics in a sub-Saharan estuary (Senegal River, West Africa): a mesocosm study. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., v. 40, n. 1, p. 13-24, 2005.; VAN DEN MEERSCHE et al., 2011VAN DEN MEERSCHE, K.; SOETAERT, K.; MIDDELBURG, J. J. Plankton dynamics in an estuarine plume: a mesocosm 13C and 15N tracer study. Mar. Ecol. Progr. Ser., v. 429, p. 29-43, 2011.), but its major role in this system is as DOM remineralizer. The large allochthonous nutrient inputs along with the rapid DOM remineralization, supports the high primary productivity and biomass of the system (GUENTHER et al., 2015GUENTHER, M.; ARAÚJO, M.; FLORES-MONTES, M.; GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, E.; NEUMANN-LEITÃO, S. Eutrophication effects on phytoplankton size-fractioned biomass and production at a tropical estuary. Mar. Pollut. Bull., v. 91, n. 2, p. 537-547, 2015.), which is the main source for the plankton consumers.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This work was supported by the National Research Council (CNPq - 470481/2005-4); and the Pernambuco State Research Foundation (FACEPE - APQ-0199-1.08/06, APQ-0120-1.08/07, APQ-0285-1.08/06, BFP-0023-1.08/06 to M.G). We are grateful to several undergraduate and graduate students and technicians from Laboratório de Zooplâncton, Laboratório de Oceanografia Química, Laboratório de Oceanografia Física Estuarina e Costeira (Departamento de Oceanografia - Universidade Federal de Pernambuco - DOCEAN/UFPE) and Instituto de Estudos do Mar Almirante Paulo Moreira (IEAPM) for laboratory and field support, and to the reviewers for important suggestions that improved the quality of our manuscript.

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    Jul-Sep 2017

History

  • Received
    19 Sept 2016
  • Accepted
    11 May 2017
Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto Oceanográfico Praça do Oceanográfico, 191 , 05508-120 Cidade Universitária, São Paulo - SP - Brasil, Tel.: (55 11) 3091-6501, Fax: (55 11) 3032-3092 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil
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