Title

Carbon Subsidies Shift a Northern Peatland Biofilm Community Towards Heterotrophy In Low But Not High Nutrient Conditions

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-1-2021

Department

Biological Sciences

School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Abstract

Producer–decomposer interactions within aquatic biofilms can range from mutualistic associations to competition depending on available resources. The outcomes of such interactions have implications for biogeochemical cycling and, as such, may be especially important in northern peatlands, which are a global carbon sink and are expected to experience changes in resource availability with climate change. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of nutrients and organic carbon on the relative proportion of primary producers (microalgae) and heterotrophic decomposers (bacteria and fungi) during aquatic biofilm development in a boreal peatland. Given that decomposers are often better competitors for nutrients than primary producers in aquatic ecosystems, we predicted that labile carbon subsidies would shift the biofilm composition towards heterotrophy owing to the ability of decomposers to outcompete primary producers for available nutrients in the absence of carbon limitation. We manipulated nutrients (nitrate and phosphate) and organic carbon (glucose) in a full factorial design using nutrient-diffusing substrates in an Alaskan fen. Heterotrophic bacteria were limited by organic carbon and algae were limited by inorganic nutrients. However, the outcomes of competitive interactions depended on background nutrient levels. Heterotrophic bacteria were able to outcompete algae for available nutrients when organic carbon was elevated and nutrient levels remained low, but not when organic carbon and nutrients were both elevated through enrichment. Fungal biomass was significantly lower in the presence of glucose alone, possibly owing to antagonistic interactions with heterotrophic bacteria. In contrast to bacteria, fungi were stimulated along with algae following nutrient enrichment. The decoupling of algae and heterotrophic bacteria in the presence of glucose alone shifted the biofilm trophic status towards heterotrophy. This effect was overturned when nutrients were enriched along with glucose, owing to a subsequent increase in algal biomass in the absence of nutrient limitation. By measuring individual components of the biofilm and obtaining data on the trophic status, we have begun to establish a link between resource availability and biofilm formation in northern peatlands. Our results show that labile carbon subsidies from outside sources have the potential to disrupt microbial coupling and shift the metabolic balance in favour of heterotrophy. The extent to which this occurs in the future will probably depend on the timing and composition of bioavailable nutrients delivered to surface waters with environmental change (e.g. permafrost thaw).

Publication Title

Freshwater Biology

Volume

66

Issue

4

First Page

589

Last Page

598

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