Biomass decay rates and tissue nutrient loss in bloom and non-bloom-forming macroalgal species

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Macroalgal blooms occur in shallow, low-wave energy environments and are generally dominated by fast-growing ephemeral macroalgae. When macroalgal mats undergo senescence and decompose they can cause oxygen depletion and release nutrients into the surrounding water. There are relatively few studies that examine macroalgal decomposition rates in areas impacted by macroalgal blooms. Understanding the rate of macroalgal bloom decomposition is essential to understanding the impacts of macroalgal blooms following senescence. Here, we examined the biomass, organic content, nitrogen decay rates and δ15N values for five macroalgal species (the bloom-forming Agardhiella subulata, Gracilaria vermiculophylla, Ulva compressa, and Ulva rigida and the non-bloom-forming Fucus vesiculosus) in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, U.S.A. using a litterbag design. Bloom-forming macroalgae had similar biomass decay rates (0.34-0.51 k d-1) and decayed significantly faster than non-bloom-forming macroalgae (0.09 k d-1). Biomass decay rates also varied temporally, with a significant positive correlation between biomass decay rate and water temperature for U. rigida. Tissue organic content decreased over time in all species, although A. subulata and G. vermiculophylla displayed significantly higher rates of organic content decay than U. compressa, U. rigida, and F. vesiculosus. Agardhiella subulata had a significantly higher rate of tissue nitrogen decay (0.35 k d-1) than all other species. By contrast, only the δ15N of F. vesiculosus changed significantly over the decay period. Overall, our results indicate that bloom-forming macroalgal species decay more rapidly than non-bloom-forming species.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science