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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 25;8(6):e67061. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067061. Print 2013.

Bacteria contribute to sediment nutrient release and reflect progressed eutrophication-driven hypoxia in an organic-rich continental sea.

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Department of Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.


In the sedimental organic matter of eutrophic continental seas, such as the largest dead zone in the world, the Baltic Sea, bacteria may directly participate in nutrient release by mineralizing organic matter or indirectly by altering the sediment's ability to retain nutrients. Here, we present a case study of a hypoxic sea, which receives riverine nutrient loading and in which microbe-mediated vicious cycles of nutrients prevail. We showed that bacterial communities changed along the horizontal loading and vertical mineralization gradients in the Gulf of Finland of the Baltic Sea, using multivariate statistics of terminal restriction fragments and sediment chemical, spatial and other properties of the sampling sites. The change was mainly explained by concentrations of organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, which showed strong positive correlation with Flavobacteria, Sphingobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria. These bacteria predominated in the most organic-rich coastal surface sediments overlain by oxic bottom water, whereas sulphate-reducing bacteria, particularly the genus Desulfobacula, prevailed in the reduced organic-rich surface sediments in the open sea. They correlated positively with organic nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as manganese oxides. These relationships suggest that the bacterial groups participated in the aerobic and anaerobic degradation of organic matter and contributed to nutrient cycling. The high abundance of sulphate reducers in the surficial sediment layers reflects the persistence of eutrophication-induced hypoxia causing ecosystem-level changes in the Baltic Sea. The sulphate reducers began to decrease below depths of 20 cm, where members of the family Anaerolineaceae (phylum Chloroflexi) increased, possibly taking part in terminal mineralization processes. Our study provides valuable information on how organic loading affects sediment bacterial community compositions, which consequently may maintain active nutrient recycling. This information is needed to improve our understanding on nutrient cycling in shallow seas where the dead zones are continuously spreading worldwide.

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