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Open AccessArticle

The Effect of Chironomid Larvae on Nitrogen Cycling and Microbial Communities in Soft Sediments

Marine Research Institute, Klaipėda University, 92294 Klaipėda, Lithuania
Department of Chemistry, Life science and Environmental Sustainability, Parma University, 43124 Parma, Italy
Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, 5230 Odense, Denmark
Integrative Marine Ecology Department, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, National Institute of Marine Biology, Ecology and Biotechnology, 8012 Napoli, Italy
Coastal and Freshwater Group, Cawthron Institute, 7042 Nelson, New Zealand
Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland, 0941 Warkworth, New Zealand
Department of Life Science and Biotechnology, Ferrara University, 44121 Ferrara, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2019, 11(9), 1931;
Received: 10 August 2019 / Revised: 9 September 2019 / Accepted: 11 September 2019 / Published: 16 September 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Role of Macrobiota in Aquatic Nutrient Cycling)
The combination of biogeochemical methods and molecular techniques has the potential to uncover the black-box of the nitrogen (N) cycle in bioturbated sediments. Advanced biogeochemical methods allow the quantification of the process rates of different microbial processes, whereas molecular tools allow the analysis of microbial diversity (16S rRNA metabarcoding) and activity (marker genes and transcripts) in biogeochemical hot-spots such as the burrow wall or macrofauna guts. By combining biogeochemical and molecular techniques, we analyzed the role of tube-dwelling Chironomus plumosus (Insecta, Diptera) larvae on nitrification and nitrate reduction processes in a laboratory experiment with reconstructed sediments. We hypothesized that chironomid larvae stimulate these processes and host bacteria actively involved in N-cycling. Our results suggest that chironomid larvae significantly enhance the recycling of ammonium (80.5 ± 48.7 µmol m−2 h−1) and the production of dinitrogen (420.2 ± 21.4 µmol m−2 h−1) via coupled nitrification–denitrification and the consumption of water column nitrates. Besides creating oxygen microniches in ammonium-rich subsurface sediments via burrow digging and ventilation, chironomid larvae serve as hot-spots of microbial communities involved in N-cycling. The quantification of functional genes showed a significantly higher potential for microbial denitrification and nitrate ammonification in larvae as compared to surrounding sediments. Future studies may further scrutinize N transformation rates associated with intimate macrofaunal–bacteria associations. View Full-Text
Keywords: chironomid larvae; nitrogen; microbial community; 16S rRNA; functional genes; denitrification; sediment chironomid larvae; nitrogen; microbial community; 16S rRNA; functional genes; denitrification; sediment
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Samuiloviene, A.; Bartoli, M.; Bonaglia, S.; Cardini, U.; Vybernaite-Lubiene, I.; Marzocchi, U.; Petkuviene, J.; Politi, T.; Zaiko, A.; Zilius, M. The Effect of Chironomid Larvae on Nitrogen Cycling and Microbial Communities in Soft Sediments. Water 2019, 11, 1931.

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