Excess Nutrient Pollution Sends Salt Marsh Microbes into Dormancy

salt marsh research equipment
Image Credit: Samantha Bond PIE LTER

A recent experiment examined the impacts of increased nitrogen on salt marshes—and the all-important microbes within them. While the total microbial community remained the same, the number of dormant microbes within the marsh skyrocketed from 45 to 90% of all taxa, inducing a huge loss of diversity within the active population. Researchers propose that this phenomenon allows salt marsh microbes to maintain genetic diversity even in the face of disturbances and unfavorable conditions. They also expect, however, that the persistence of such conditions would fundamentally change the ecosystem functions delivered by these coastal habitats— functions ranging from absorbing nutrient runoff and carbon dioxide to buffering the coast against storms.

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