Identifying and quantifying nitrogen pools is essential for understanding the nitrogen cycle in aquatic ecosystems. The ubiquitous diatoms represent an overlooked nitrate pool as they can accumulate nitrate intracellularly and utilize it for nitrogen assimilation, dissipation of excess photosynthetic energy, and Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium (DNRA). Here, we document the global co-occurrence of diatoms and intracellular nitrate in phototrophic microbial communities in freshwater (n = 69), coastal (n = 44), and open marine (n = 4) habitats. Diatom abundance and total intracellular nitrate contents in water columns, sediments, microbial mats, and epilithic biofilms were highly significantly correlated. In contrast, diatom community composition had only a marginal influence on total intracellular nitrate contents. Nitrate concentrations inside diatom cells exceeded ambient nitrate concentrations ∼100–4000-fold. The collective intracellular nitrate pool of the diatom community accounted for <1% of total nitrate in pelagic habitats and 65–95% in benthic habitats. Accordingly, nitrate-storing diatoms are emerging as significant contributors to benthic nitrogen cycling, in particular through Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium activity under anoxic conditions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Science(all)
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)