Potential importance of physiologically diverse benthic foraminifera in sedimentary nitrate storage and respiration Academic Article uri icon


  • Until recently, the process of denitrification (conversion of nitrate or nitrite to gaseous products) was thought to be performed exclusively by prokaryotes and fungi. The finding that foraminifera perform complete denitrification could impact our understanding of nitrate removal in sediments as well as our understanding of eukaryotic respiration, especially if it is widespread. However, details of this process and the subcellular location of these reactions in foraminifera remain uncertain. For example, prokaryotic endobionts, rather than the foraminifer proper, could perform denitrification, as has been shown recently in an allogromiid foraminifer. Here, intracellular nitrate concentrations and isotope ratios (?15NNO3 and ?18ONO3) were measured to assess the nitrate dynamics in four benthic foraminiferal species (Bolivina argentea, Buliminella tenuata, Fursenkoina cornuta, Nonionella stella) with differing cellular architecture and associations with microbial endobionts, recovered from Santa Barbara Basin, California. Cellular nitrate concentrations were high (12–217 mM) in each species, and intracellular nitrate often had elevated ?15NNO3 and ?18ONO3 values. Experiments including suboxic and anoxic incubations of B. argentea revealed a decrease in intracellular nitrate concentration and an increase in ?15NNO3 and ?18ONO3 over time, indicating nitrate respiration and/or denitrification within the foraminifera. Results illustrate that nitrate reduction occurs in a range of foraminiferal species, including some possessing endobionts (including a chloroplast-sequestering species) and others lacking endobionts, implying that microbial associates may not solely be responsible for this process in foraminifera. Furthermore, we show that benthic foraminifera may represent important reservoirs of nitrate storage in sediments, as well as mediators of its removal.

publication date

  • September 2012