Evidence of nitrification associated with globally distributed pelagic jellyfish

Nathan D. Hubot*, Sarah L. C. Giering, Jessika Füssel, Julie Robidart, Antony Birchill, Mark Stinchcombe, Cynthia Dumousseaud, Cathy H. Lucas

*Corresponding author for this work

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Often considered detrimental to the environment and human activities, jellyfish blooms are increasing in several coastal regions worldwide. Yet, the overall effect of these outbreaks on ecosystem productivity and structure are not fully understood. Here we provide evidence for a so far unanticipated role of jellyfish in marine nitrogen cycling. Pelagic jellyfish release nitrogen as a metabolic waste product in form of ammonium. Yet, we observed high rates of nitrification (NH4+ → NO3, 5.7–40.8 nM gWW−1 [wet weight] h−1) associated with the scyphomedusae Aurelia aurita, Chrysaora hysoscella, and Chrysaora pacifica and low rates of incomplete nitrification (NH4+ → NO2, 1.0–2.8 nM gWW−1 h−1) associated with Chrysaora fulgida, C. hysoscella, and C. pacifica. These observations indicate that microbes living in association with these jellyfish thrive by oxidizing the readily available ammonia to nitrite and nitrate. The four studied species have a large geographic distribution and exhibit frequent population outbreaks. We show that, during such outbreaks, jellyfish-associated release of nitrogen can provide more than 100% of the nitrogen required for primary production. These findings reveal a so far overlooked pathway when assessing pelagic nitrification rates that might be of particular relevance in nitrogen depleted surface waters and at high jellyfish population densities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2159-2173
Number of pages15
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number6
Early online date3 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2021


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