Nitrogen fixation may not balance the nitrogen pool in lakes over timescales relevant to eutrophication management

Scott, J. Thad, and Mark J. McCarthy

Limnol. Oceanogr., 55(3), 2010, 1265-1270 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2010.55.3.1265

ABSTRACT: We explored multiyear linear trends in nutrient concentrations, nitrogen (N) : phosphorus (P) ratio, and phytoplankton biomass within the 37-yr, whole-ecosystem nutrient enrichment experiment in Lake 227 of the Experimental Lakes Area, Canada. Based on experimental conditions, data were divided into subsets, which included (1) the period from 1969 to 1989 when the lake was fertilized with both N and P; (2) the period from 1990 to 2005 when the lake was fertilized with P alone; and (3) the period from 1997 to 2005 when the lake was fertilized with P alone and which also postdated a food web manipulation experiment, which left the lake without fish. After N fertilization was halted in 1990, total N concentrations decreased, which resulted in a decrease in the ratio of total N to total P and suggested increasing N deficiency. Chlorophyll a concentration decreased over this same period. Phytoplankton biomass (mg m-3) was highly variable during the food web manipulation experiment but exhibited a clear decrease from 1997 to 2005, which was the longest period of monotonic change in phytoplankton biomass over the entire 37-yr study. Collectively, these results suggest that Lake 227 has become increasingly N-limited since N fertilization was halted and indicate that N fixation by cyanobacteria was not sufficient to offset the decrease in external N inputs to Lake 227. Furthermore, phytoplankton biomass decreased in response to decreased N availability, suggesting that the degree of eutrophication can be controlled by managing N inputs concurrently with P.

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