N:P ratios, light limitation, and cyanobacterial dominance in a subtropical lake impacted by non-point source nutrient pollution.Environ Pollut. 2003; 122(3):379-90.EP
A long-term (28-year) data set was used to investigate historical changes in concentrations of phosphorus (P), nitrogen (N), N:P ratios, and Secchi disk transparency in a shallow subtropical lake (Lake Okeechobee, Florida, USA). The aim was to evaluate changes in the risk of N2-fixing cyanobacterial blooms, which have infrequently occurred in the lake's pelagic zone. Predictions regarding bloom risk were based on previously published N:P ratio models. Temporal trends in the biomass of cyanobacteria were evaluated using phytoplankton data collected in 1974, 1989-1992, and 1997-2000. Concentrations of pelagic total P increased from near 50 microg l-1 in the mid-1970s to over 100 microg l-1 in the late 1990s. Coincidentally, the total N:P (mass) ratio decreased from 30:1 to below 15:1, and soluble N:P ratio decreased from 15:1 to near 6:1, in the lake water. Published empirical models predict that current conditions favor cyanobacteria. The observations confirm this prediction: cyanobacteria presently account for 50-80% of total phytoplankton biovolume. The historical decrease in TN:TP ratio in the lake can be attributed to a decreased TN:TP ratio in the inflow water and to a decline in the lake's assimilation of P, relative to N. Coincident with these declines in total and soluble N:P ratios, Secchi disk transparency declined from 0.6 m to near 0.3 m, possibly due to increased mineral turbidity in the lake water. Empirical models predict that under the turbid, low irradiance conditions that prevail in this lake, non-heterocystous cyanobacteria should dominate the phytoplankton. Our observations confirmed this prediction: non-N2-fixing taxa (primarily Oscillatoria and Lyngbya spp.) typically dominated the cyanobacteria community during the last decade. The only exception was a year with very low water levels, when heterocystous N2-fixing Anabaena became dominant. In the near-shore regions of this shallow lake, low N:P ratios potentially favor blooms of N2-fixing cyanobacteria, but their occurrence in the pelagic zone is restricted by low irradiance and lack of stable stratification.