Pelagic phytoplankton community change-points across nutrient gradients and in response to invasive mussels

Katya E. Kovalenko, Euan D. Reavie, J. David Allan, Meijun Cai, Sigrid D.P. Smith, Lucinda B. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Phytoplankton communities can experience nonlinear responses to changing nutrient concentrations, but the nature of species shifts within phytoplankton is not well understood and few studies have explored responses of pelagic assemblages in large lakes. Using pelagic phytoplankton data from the Great Lakes, we assessed phytoplankton assemblage change-point responses to nutrients and invasive Dreissena, characterising community responses in a multi-stressor environment and determine whether species responses to in situ nutrients can be approximated from nutrient loading. We demonstrate assemblage shifts in phytoplankton communities along major stressor gradients, particularly prominent in spring assemblages, providing insight into community thresholds at the lower end of the phosphorus gradient and species-stressor responses in a multi-stressor environment. We show that responses to water nutrient concentrations could not be estimated from large-scale nutrient loading data likely due to lake-specific retention time and long-term accumulation of nutrients. These findings highlight the potential for significant accumulation of nitrates in ultra-oligotrophic systems, nonlinear responses of phytoplankton at nutrient concentrations relevant to current water quality standards and system-specific (e.g. lake or ecozone) differences in phytoplankton responses likely due to differences in nutrient co-limitation and effects of dreissenids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-381
Number of pages16
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and the University of Michigan Water Center for the generous support of the project ‘A comprehensive stressor-response model to inform ecosystem restorations across the Great Lakes basin’. We acknowledge the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project, and its many data contributors. This research was also supported by a grant to E. Reavie from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Cooperative Agreement GL-00E23101-2. This document has not been subjected to the EPA's required peer and policy review, and therefore, does not necessarily reflect the view of the Agency, and no official endorsement should be inferred. We express gratitude to two anonymous reviewers and Associate Editor, Dr. Alan Steinman for their insightful comments. This is contribution number 615 from the Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Dreissena
  • algae
  • community thresholds
  • eutrophication
  • water quality


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