A fundamental and persistent question in a multitude of ecosystems is the extent to which new versus regenerated nutrients support ecosystem productivity. In coastal marine systems, nitrate derived from upwelling (= new nitrogen) and ammonium regeneration in coastal waters and sediments (= regenerated nitrogen) are major nitrogen sources that fuel coastal ocean productivity. Because inorganic nitrogen availability clearly regulates production in a large number of areas, understanding nitrogen supply is essential. In open coast regions away from river mouths, nitrate inputs are determined by large-scale physical processes promoting upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich water including wind direction and intensity. In contrast, regenerated nitrogen (mainly ammonium) is generally the result of local animal and microbial processes. Along marine rocky shores, where upwelling is typically used as a proxy for productivity, we know very little about the dynamics of regenerated nutrients and their potential contribution to productivity at larger scales; only upwelling is typically used as a proxy for productivity. Associations of the abundant California mussel, Mytilus californianus, with water nutrients, algal productivity, stable isotope signatures, and microbial genetics indicate potentially strong regeneration of nitrogen by these animals and suggest an important secondary role of nitrifying microbes affiliated with these animals.
In this project, the investigators will quantify the relative contribution of regenerated nitrogen on rocky shores through censuses and experiments across a gradient of mussel abundance. They will use stable nitrogen and oxygen isotopes of ammonium, nitrite, and nitrate to disentangle the contribution of different biological processes versus upwelling to the nitrogen supply and uptake of rocky shore regions. This includes both natural abundance and tracer addition studies.
Broader Impacts. Regenerated nitrogen supply, as opposed to new nitrogen via upwelling, is a local process dependent upon an intact animal community. However, mussels and other nearshore animals may be particularly vulnerable to a changing thermal environment, toxic algal blooms, and ocean acidification. Given the dramatic changes to the coastal nitrogen cycle in recent years, and potential changes to currents, upwelling, ocean chemistry, and El NiÃ±o frequencies portended by global changes to our climate, we to know the relative effect of local versus larger scale oceanic events on the nitrogen cycle. The proposed work links biological interactions in situ with its implications for coastal productivity.
In addition to expected publications in high quality journals, educational activities will continue to focus on graduate and undergraduate education and mentoring. The proposal will fund two graduate students and two undergraduates per year. The PI's will work closely with government (Olympic Marine National Sanctuary) and tribal (Makah Tribe) representatives to communicate this research. We will also work with Makah Museum Board of Trustees and the Makah Higher Education Committee to identify Makah students as research assistants. All three PI's teach broadly across their respective campuses, instructing almost every type of undergraduate major.