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Effect of micronutrients on algae in different regions of Taihu, a large, spatially diverse, hypereutrophic lake

Zhang, Xiaokai, Li, Boling, Xu, Hai, Wells, Mona, Tefsen, Boris, Qin, Boqiang
Water research 2019 v.151 pp. 500-514
algae, algal blooms, bioassays, biocides, boron, chlorophyll, cobalt, copper, environmental management, eutrophication, flow cytometry, freshwater ecosystems, iron, lakes, molybdenum, nitrogen, nutrients, phosphorus, phytoplankton, China
Eutrophication or excessive nutrient richness is an impairment of many freshwater ecosystems and a prominent cause of harmful algal blooms. It is generally accepted that nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients are the primary causative factor, however, for systems subject to large anthropogenic perturbation, this may no longer be true, and the role of micronutrients is often overlooked. Here we report a study on Lake Tai (Taihu), a large, spatially diverse and hypereutrophic lake in China. We performed small-scale mesocosm nutrient limitation bioassays using boron, iron, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, nitrogen and phosphorus on phytoplankton communities sampled from different locations in Taihu to test the relative effects of micronutrients on in situ algal assemblages. In addition to commonly-used methods of chemical and biological analysis (including algal phytoplankton counting), we used flow cytometry coupled with data-driven analysis to monitor changes to algal assemblages. We found statistically significant effects of limitation or co-limitation for boron, cobalt, copper and iron. For copper at one location chlorophyll-a was over four times higher for amendment with copper, nitrogen and phosphorous than for the latter two alone. Since copper is often proposed as amendment for the environmental management of harmful algal blooms, this result is significant. We have three primary conclusions: first, the strong effects for Cu that we report here are mutually consistent across chlorophyll-a results, count data, and results determined from a data-driven approach to flow cytometry. Given that we cannot rule out a role for a Fe-Cu homeostatic link in causing these effects, future research into MNs and how they interact with N, P, and other MNs should be pursued to explore new interventions for effective management of HABs. Second, in view of the stimulatory effect that Cu exhibited, management of HABs with Cu as an algal biocide may not always be advisable. Third, our approach to flow cytometry offers data confirming our results from chemical and biological analysis, however also holds promise for future development as a high-throughput tool for use in understanding changes in algal assemblages. The results from this study concur with a small and emerging body of literature suggesting that the potential role of micronutrients in eutrophication requires further consideration in environmental management.