Nutrient sources for excessive growth of benthic algae in Lake Ontario as inferred by the distribution of SRP
Martin, Grace Marion
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Total phosphorus concentrations in the open waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes are currently at or beneath target concentrations set by international agreement. Despite the success of phosphorus loading controls in remediating nearshore eutrophication problems in the past, nuisance growth of Cladophora has recently returned to the lower Great Lakes. This thesis examines soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) in a northwestern segment of Lake Ontario to assess whether allochthonous or autochthonous sources of phosphate lead to localized areas of PO43- enrichment that may help to explain the seemingly paradoxical resurgence of Cladophora. As SRP is often an overestimate of PO43- in P-limited waters, measures of SRP made with the standard method were compared with measures of SRP made with modified methods (i.e., using dialysis and magnesium-induced co-precipitation) designed to more accurately measure phosphate when it was expected to be at low concentrations. Measures of SRP made with standard and modified methods did not differ, however, SRP was 1 to 3 orders of magnitude higher than a more sensitive steady-state radiobioassay for PO43- used for comparison in offshore waters. Although the utility of SRP is limited when phosphate concentrations are very low, SRP is useful to measure localized areas of phosphate enrichment, and its relative concentrations can be compared in time and space. To quantify the degree to which allochthonous inputs and dreissenids contribute to PO43- concentrations that permit Cladophora growth, intensive sampling for SRP was carried out prior to, during and following the Cladophora growing season. SRP was higher in the nearshore than offshore and near the mouth of a large tributary and a treated wastewater outfall than in samples from other locations along the shoreline, but only in the spring and autumn. Phosphate turnover times indicated lower P-limitation in the nearshore and near local inputs versus the offshore. Higher concentrations of SRP were measured in samples taken 15 cm and 50 cm above dreissenid mussel-beds than in those obtained at corresponding depths over other substrata and from higher up in the water column through the Cladophora growing season, while Chl a concentrations displayed the reverse trend. These results suggest that PO43- excreted by dreissenids could be more important in time and space than external inputs in supporting nuisance Cladophora growth in the current nearshore environment. Continued research and monitoring of P dynamics in the nearshore combined with model approaches should better predict whether more stringent P controls would be effective in managing Cladophora growth.