Mechanisms preventing a decrease in phytoplankton biomass after phosphorus reductions in a German drinking water reservoir—results from more than 50 years of observation

  • 1. To counteract the severe consequences of eutrophication on water quality and ecosystem health, nutrient inputs have been reduced in many lakes and reservoirs during the last decades. Contrary to expectations, in some lakes phytoplankton biomass did not decrease in response to oligotrophication (nutrient reduction). The underlying mechanisms preventing a decrease in biomass in these lakes are the subject of ongoing discussion. 2. We used a hitherto unpublished long-term data set ranging from 1961 until 2016 from a German drinking water reservoir (Rappbode Reservoir) to investigate the underlying mechanisms preventing a decrease in biomass. Total phosphorus (TP) concentrations in the Rappbode Reservoir dropped abruptly in 1990 from 0.163 to 0.027 mg/L within three consecutive years, as a result of banning phosphate-containing detergents. Despite substantial reductions in TP, total annual phytoplankton biomass did not decline in the long-run, and therefore, the yield of total phytoplankton biomass per unit phosphorus largely increased. 3. Regression analysis revealed a positive association between the yield and potentially phagotrophic mixotrophs (R2 = .465, p < .001). We infer that by ingesting bacteria, mixotrophic species were capable of exploiting additional P sources that are not accessible to obligate autotrophic phytoplankton, eventually preventing a decrease in algal biomass after TP reductions. 4. Long-term epilimnetic phosphorus concentrations during the winter mixing period decreased to a greater degree than summer phosphorus concentrations. Apparently, TP losses over the season were less intense. Spring diatom biomass also markedly decreased after oligotrophication. In fact, spring diatom biomass was positively related to the TP loss over the season suggesting diatoms play an important role in P reduction. However, this intraannual P processing was not the primary factor when focusing on the average yearly yield, which remained to be fully explained by mixotrophs. 5. Our study demonstrates this ecosystem’s ability to compensate for changes in resource availability through changes in phytoplankton community composition and functional strategies. We conclude that an increase in mixotrophy and the ability to make bacterial phosphorus available for phytoplankters were the main factors that allowed the phytoplankton community of the Rappbode Reservoir to adapt to lower nutrient levels without a loss in total biomass.

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Author:V. C. Wentzky, J. Tittel, Christoph G. JägerORCiD, K. Rinke
Parent Title (English):Freshwater Biology
Editor: Wiley
Document Type:Article (peer reviewed)
Publication Year:2018
Tag:community composition; long-term monitoring,; mixotrophy; oligotrophication; sedimentation
First Page:1063
Last Page:1076
Peer reviewed:Ja
Funding Agency:DFG
Grant Number:JA 2146/2-1 & RI 2040/2-1
faculties / departments:Forschung und Entwicklung
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 57 Biowissenschaften; Biologie