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Declining phosphorus as a potential driver for the onset of Didymosphenia geminata mats in North American rivers

Kunza, Lisa A., Gillis, Carole‐Anne, Haueter, Jaime Z., Murdock, Justin N., O'Brien, Jonathan M.
River research and applications 2018 v.34 no.8 pp. 1105-1110
Didymosphenia geminata, biofilm, case studies, data collection, ecoregions, environmental factors, habitats, phosphorus, rivers, streams, Canada, Montana
Didymosphenia geminata is a stalk‐forming diatom capable of creating thick benthic mats in low‐nutrient streams. There are two hypotheses to explain the rapid worldwide increase in occurrence of nuisance D. geminata mats: (a) Cells are spread among rivers and across broad ecoregions through natural and anthropogenic vectors, or (2) pre‐existing D. geminata populations are forming mats in response to changing environmental conditions within the habitat. Low phosphorus (P) concentrations are a major trigger for stalk production by D. geminata cells. Although the environmental change hypothesis is gaining support among researchers, long‐term data sets demonstrating declining P concentrations prior to reported mat formation have been essentially absent from the literature. Here, we present long‐term datasets for two case studies for which long‐term P and D. geminata data coincide: the Matapedia River in Eastern Canada and the Kootenai River below Libby Dam in Montana, United States. Both rivers had declining P levels over time. However, there was a 2‐ and 20‐year lag time, respectively, between mat development and reaching the previously proposed average 2 μg/L soluble reactive P threshold for development. Although the Matapedia River provides some support of the environmental change hypothesis, the Kootenai River data set suggests other environmental factors may play a role in mat development. The data presented do not rule out the environmental change hypothesis but do suggest there may be conditions in addition to low P that must be met for mats to form and the environmental change hypothesis can likely be refined to include more parameters to better understand and mitigate the influence of mats.