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To understand the mechanisms responsible for seasonal fluctuations in growth and N2 fixation in intertidal microbial mat communities, we quantified seasonal changes in mat community composition, related these changes to diel and seasonal N2 fixation rates, and evaluated community responses (growth, N2fixation, composition) to long-term (22 d) nutrient addition bioassays. A temperate intertidal cyanobacterial mat community, located in coastal North Carolina, USA, was sampled at monthly intervals for 1 yr (1993-94) to determine changes in community composition. The abundances of major phototrophic groups were quantified based on the relative concentrations of taxaspecific photopigments (chlorophylls and carotenoids). The most abundant phototrophs were cyanobacteria, diatoms, and photosynthetic bacteria. Mat blomass and community composition underwent marked changes on both monthly and seasonal scales and corresponded with seasonal shifts in the diel patterns of N2 fixation. Diatom biomass increased during periods of low N2 fixation. Nutrient (nitrate and phosphate) addition bioassays indicated that both cyanobacterial and diatom growth were N limited. Cyanobacteria were able to circumvent N limitation by N2 fixation. The addition of high concentrations of N (100µM NaNO3) in combination with P (100 µM NaH2P04) resulted in an increase (163%) in the relative abundance of diatoms The addition of P alone more than doubled N2 fixation rates and cyanobacterial abundance increased (+34%) relative to diatoms. However, N and NP additions significantly lowered (by more than 75%) N2 fixation rates. Here we show that manipulative experiments, together with quantitative assessments of community composition based on chemotaxonomic pigments, can provide useful insights into the mechanisms that relate mat community structure and function to environmental constraints, including nutrient limitation and seasonal climatic changes.

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