Phosphorus enrichment and carbon depletion contribute to high Microcystis biomass and microcystin concentrations in Ugandan lakes

A. E. Poste, R. E. Hecky and S. J. Guildford

Limnol. Oceanogr., 58(3), 2013, 1075-1088 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2013.58.3.1075

ABSTRACT: We investigated the factors influencing cyanobacterial biomass and microcystin (MC) concentrations in several Ugandan lakes from September 2008 to February 2009. We characterized thermal structure, light availability, nutrient concentrations, chlorophyll a, phytoplankton δ13C (as an indicator of CO2 limitation), and phytoplankton community composition and abundance as well as MC concentrations. We used these data to test several hypotheses based on previous research in temperate lakes regarding the factors that encourage high cyanobacterial biomass and MC concentrations. Site characteristics that appeared to favor high cyanobacterial biomass (especially Microcystis) included: high total phosphorus concentrations, low total nitrogen to total phosphorus (TN : TP) ratios, and possibly low CO2 availability. Light availability, total nitrogen concentrations, and thermal structure of the water column were not related to cyanobacterial biomass. MC concentrations were strongly related to Microcystis biomass (and were not related to the biomass of any other cyanobacterial taxa), which was positively correlated with total phosphorus and chlorophyll a concentrations. MC cell content may be moderated by CO2 availability, with MC cell quotas tending to be lower where the potential for C-limitation of photosynthesis was higher. In these phosphorus-rich tropical lakes, the shallowest study sites were most conducive to the development of large standing crops of Microcystis and high MC concentrations. The environmental conditions that appear to favor high cyanobacterial biomass and MC concentrations in our Ugandan study lakes are similar to what has been observed for temperate lakes.

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