Environmental factors influencing microcystin distribution and concentration in the Midwestern United States

Jennifer L. Graham, John R. Jones, Susan B. Jones, John A. Downing, Thomas E. Clevenger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


During May-September 2000-2001, physicochemical data were collected from 241 lakes in Missouri, Iowa, northeastern Kansas, and southern Minnesota U.S.A., to determine the environmental variables associated with high concentrations of the cyanobacterial hepatotoxin microcystin (MC). The study region represents a south-north latitudinal gradient in increasing trophic status, with total phosphorus (TP) and total nitrogen (TN) values ranging between 2-995 and 90-15870 μg/L, respectively. Particulate MC values, measured by ELISA, ranged from undetectable to 4500 ng/L and increased with increasing latitude. Despite latitudinal trends, environmental variables explained <50% of the variation in MC values. Inspection of MC-TN and MC-Secchi bivariate plots revealed distinctly nonlinear trends, suggesting optima for maximum MC values. Nonlinear interval maxima regression indicated that MC-TN maxima were characterized by a unimodal curve, with maximal (>2000 ng/L) MC values occurring between 1500 and 4000 μg/L TN. Above 8000 μg/L TN all MC values were <150 ng/L. MC-Secchi maxima were characterized by exponential decline, with maximal MC values occurring at Secchi depths <2.5 m. The development of empirical relationships between environmental variables and MC values is critical to effective lake management and minimization of human health risks associated with the toxin. This study indicates MC values are linked to the physicochemical environment; however, the relationships are not traditional linear models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4395-4404
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number20
StatePublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this project was provided by the US EPA opposite ground water and drinking water. This study has not been subjected to EPA administrative review and may not reflect the view of the agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. Funding and support was also provided by the Departments of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering at MU, the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at ISU, and the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center. We thank Mark Kaiser for discussing his ideas on nonlinear relationships. We would also like to thank Sarah Panken, Christopher Radcliffe, and Travis Hill for field and laboratory assistance.


  • Cyanobacteria
  • Cyanotoxin
  • Microcystin
  • Midwest
  • Nonlinear


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