Nitrogen fixation facilitates stream microbial mat biomass across the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

TitleNitrogen fixation facilitates stream microbial mat biomass across the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsKohler, TJ, Singley, JG, Wlostowski, A, McKnight, DM
Date Published07/2023
Keywordsbiofilm, C, cyanobacteria, hyporheic zone, MCM LTER, mineralization, N, P biogeochemistry

Nitrogen (N) fixation is a fundamental mechanism by which N enters streams. Yet, because of modern N saturation, it is difficult to study the importance of N-fixation to stream nutrient budgets. Here, we utilized relatively simple and pristine McMurdo Dry Valley streams to investigate the role of N-fixing Nostoc abundance, streamwater dissolved inorganic N (DIN) concentration, and distance from the source glacier in regulating the elemental and isotopic composition of three microbial mat types (black, orange, and green) at the landscape scale. We found Nostoc-based black mats were the most enriched in δ15N, and δ15N signatures of mats increased where Nostoc was abundant, but did not surpass the atmospheric standard (δ15N ≈ 0‰). Furthermore, green and orange mat δ15N signatures became more depleted with increasing DIN, indicating that mats utilize glacial meltwater-sourced N when available. The distance from the source glacier explained limited variability in mat δ15N across sites, indicating the influence of individual stream characteristics on N spiraling. To further explore longitudinal N spiraling processes generating observed δ15Ν patterns, we developed a simple steady-state mathematical model. Analysis of plausible scenarios with this model confirmed that streams both have the capacity to remove allochthonous DIN over the plausible range of inputs, and that internal N sources are required to account for δ15N signatures and observed DIN concentrations at stream outlets. Collectively, these data and modeling results demonstrate that N-fixation exerts substantial influence within and across these streams, and is presumably dependent upon interconnected organic matter reserves, mineralization rates, and geomorphology.