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Frontiers in Marine Science

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The “priming effect,” in which addition of labile substances changes the remineralization rate of recalcitrant organic matter, has been intensively studied in soils, but is less well-documented in aquatic systems. We investigated the extent to which additions of nutrients or labile organic carbon could influence remineralization rates of 14C-labeled, microbially-degraded, phytoplankton-derived organic matter (OM) in microcosms inoculated with microbial communities drawn from Grove Creek Estuary in coastal Georgia, USA. We found that amendment with labile protein plus phosphorus increased remineralization rates of degraded, phytoplankton-derived OM by up to 100%, whereas acetate slightly decreased remineralization rates relative to an unamended control. Addition of ammonium and phosphate induced a smaller effect, whereas addition of ammonium alone had no effect. Counterintuitively, alkaline phosphatase activities increased in response to the addition of protein under P-replete conditions, indicating that production of enzymes unrelated to the labile priming compound may be a mechanism for the priming effect. The observed priming effect was transient: after 36 days of incubation roughly the same quantity of organic carbon had been mineralized in all treatments including no-addition controls. This timescale is on the order of the typical hydrologic residence times of well-flushed estuaries suggesting that priming in estuaries has the potential to influence whether OC is remineralized in situ or exported to the coastal ocean.


This article was published openly thanks to the University of Tennessee Open Publishing Support Fund.

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