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Role of trace metal co-limitation in cyanobacterial blooms of Maumee Bay (Lake Erie) and Green Bay (Lake Michigan)

June 28, 2023

The open waters of large lakes can sometimes become so depleted in important metals that phytoplankton communities become either growth limited or limited in some metabolic function. Metals such as Fe, Ni, Mo, and Zn are used as co-factors for enzymes by phytoplankton in core metabolic functions, as well as metabolic pathways that allow phytoplankton to use less preferred forms of N and P (e.g. nitrates, urea, and organic phosphorus). In the Laurentian Great Lakes, metal limitation has been observed primarily in waters that are isolated from tributary inputs and sediment exchange. These are situations where the supply of metals is very low relative to demand. We hypothesized that another situation where metal limitation could occur is within algal blooms, where the demand for metals is high because preferred forms of N and P are often low or absent and the phytoplankton biomass is extremely high. As a preliminary test of this hypothesis, we performed seven laboratory incubation experiments on naturally occurring phytoplankton communities from two nearshore habitats that frequently experience blooms (Green Bay in Lake Michigan and Maumee Bay in Lake Erie). Metals and labile nutrients (inorganic N and P) were often present at low concentrations or below the method detection limit. Amendments of inorganic N (5 experiments) and P (1 one experiment) resulted in increased chlorophyll in laboratory incubations, but metal amendments alone never appeared to stimulate growth. Although we attempted to sample during conditions when we hypothesized metal limitation would be most likely, we cannot rule out the possibility that metal limitation is occurring at other times in these eutrophic nearshore areas. Further, metal availability could affect other aspects of the phytoplankton community, such as the production of cyanotoxins or the interactions between different phytoplankton taxa.

Publication Year 2023
Title Role of trace metal co-limitation in cyanobacterial blooms of Maumee Bay (Lake Erie) and Green Bay (Lake Michigan)
DOI 10.1080/02705060.2023.2222747
Authors James H. Larson, Keith Loftin, Erin A. Stelzer, David M. Costello, Sean Bailey, Mary Anne Evans, Carrie E Givens, Lisa R. Fogarty
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Freshwater Ecology
Index ID 70250870
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center