Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Biology

Major Professor

Thomas, Florence I.M.

Keywords

nutrient uptake, mass transfer, isotope, dissolved inorganic nitrogen, water flow

Abstract

Seagrass communities are composed of numerous organisms that depend on water-column nutrients for metabolic processes. The rate at which these organisms remove a nutrient from the water column can be controlled by physical factors such as hydrodynamic regime or by biological factors such as speed of enzyme reactions. The impact of hydrodynamic regime on rates of nutrient uptake for seagrass (Thalassia testudinum) communities and for organisms that comprise the community (seagrass, epiphytes, phytoplankton, and microphytobenthos) was quantified in a series of field flume experiments employing the use of 15N-labeled ammonium and nitrate. Rates of ammonium uptake for the entire community and for seagrass leaves and epiphytes were significantly dependent on bulk velocity, bottom shear stress, and the rate of turbulent energy dissipation.

Relationships between uptake rates and these parameters were consistent with mass-transfer theory and suggest that the effect of water flow on ammonium uptake is the same for the benthos as a whole and for the organisms that form the canopy. In addition, epiphytes on the surface of T. testudinum leaves were shown to depress leaf uptake by an amount proportional to the area of the leaf covered by epiphytes. Water flow influenced rates of nitrate uptake for the community and the epiphytes; however, uptake rates were depressed relative to those for ammonium suggesting that uptake of nitrate was also affected by biological factors such as enzyme activity. Epiphytes reduced uptake of nitrate by the leaves; however, the amount of reduction was not proportional to the extent of epiphyte cover, which provided further evidence that nitrate uptake by T. testudinum leaves was biologically limited.

As an additional component of the research, hydrodynamic regime of a mixed seagrass and coral community in Florida Bay was characterized using an acoustic Doppler velocimeter. Hydrodynamic parameters estimated from velocity data were used in mass-transfer equations to predict nutrient uptake by the benthos over a range of water velocity. Measured rates of uptake from field flume experiments conducted in the same community confirmed that hydrodynamic data could be used to accurately predict nutrient transport to the benthos under natural flow conditions.

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