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Chamaegigas intrepidus Dinter is a poikilohydric aquatic plant that lives in rock pools on granite outcrops in central Namibia. The pools are filled with water only intermittently during the wet season, and the plants may pass through up to 20 rehydration/dehydration cycles during the summer rains. The potential nitrogen sources for the rehydrated plants are ammonium, which is only present at 10-20 µM, amino acids, particularly glycine, and urea, which is generally present at 20-30 µM. We show that urea can be utilised by plants in the field through the presence of urease in the sediments of the rock pools. Urease activity is higher in non-submerged than in submerged sediments, and it can survive 6 months of complete dryness at temperatures up to 60°C. Experiments with [14C]urea under laboratory conditions show that the roots of C. intrepidus are unable to take up urea; while 15N-nuclear magnetic resonance experiments show that [15N]urea is only metabolised to labelled glutamine and glutamate after ammonium has been released by the action of urease. Thus urease plays a vital role in allowing urea to be utilised as a major N source in this nutrient-limited aquatic ecosystem.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





9 - 14


15N-NMR spectroscopy, Glutamine, Glycine, Key words Glutamate, Urease