The Role of Nitrogen Fixation in Cyanobacterial Bloom Toxicity in a Temperate, Eutrophic Lake

Beversdorf, Lucas J.; Miller, Todd R.; McMahon, Katherine D.
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Toxic cyanobacterial blooms threaten freshwaters worldwide but have proven difficult to predict because the mechanisms of bloom formation and toxin production are unknown, especially on weekly time scales. Water quality management continues to focus on aggregated metrics, such as chlorophyll and total nutrients, which may not be sufficient to explain complex community changes and functions such as toxin production. For example, nitrogen (N) speciation and cycling play an important role, on daily time scales, in shaping cyanobacterial communities because declining N has been shown to select for N fixers. In addition, subsequent N pulses from N2 fixation may stimulate and sustain toxic cyanobacterial growth. Herein, we describe how rapid early summer declines in N followed by bursts of N fixation have shaped cyanobacterial communities in a eutrophic lake (Lake Mendota, Wisconsin, USA), possibly driving toxic Microcystis blooms throughout the growing season. On weekly time scales in 2010 and 2011, we monitored the cyanobacterial community in a eutrophic lake using the phycocyanin intergenic spacer (PC-IGS) region to determine population dynamics. In parallel, we measured microcystin concentrations, N2 fixation rates, and potential environmental drivers that contribute to structuring the community. In both years, cyanobacterial community change was strongly correlated with dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations, and Aphanizomenon and Microcystis alternated dominance throughout the pre-toxic, toxic, and post-toxic phases of the lake. Microcystin concentrations increased a few days after the first significant N2 fixation rates were observed. Then, following large early summer N2 fixation events, Microcystis increased and became most abundant. Maximum microcystin concentrations coincided with Microcystis dominance. In both years, DIN concentrations dropped again in late summer, and N2 fixation rates and Aphanizomenon abundance increased before the lake mixed in the fall. Estimated N inputs from N2 fixation were large enough to supplement, or even support, the toxic Microcystis blooms.


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