Phytoplankton trends in the Great Lakes, 2001-2011

Euan D Reavie, Richard P. Barbiero, Lisa E. Allinger, Glenn J. Warren

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65 Scopus citations


We describe recent trends in phytoplankton composition and abundance in the Laurentian Great Lakes using synoptic spring (April) and summer (August) sampling events from 2001 through 2011, a period of rapid shifts in pelagic food webs and water quality. Data analysis identified qualitative and quantitative changes in algal densities, biovolume, and taxonomic composition of assemblages. Since 2001, Lake Superior has changed subtly with an increase in small-celled blue-green algae in spring and a recent decline in summer centric diatoms, possibly a result of lake warming and changes in water quality. Spring phytoplankton declines mainly attributed to diatoms occurred in Lakes Huron and Michigan, a probable result of invasions by non-native dreissenids that have reduced pelagic nutrients and selectively consumed certain taxa. The decline in Lake Huron's spring phytoplankton biovolume was earlier and more severe than that in Lake Michigan, despite a faster and more abundant dreissenid invasion in Lake Michigan. Lake Erie's central basin had a notable increase in spring centric diatoms (largely Aulacoseira), while the whole of Lake Erie shows a summer increase in cyanobacteria, complementing that found in coastal regions. The composition of Lake Ontario's species assemblage shifted, but little overall change in algal abundance was observed with the exception of higher summer densities of cyanophytes. Additional mechanisms for shifts in the pelagic primary producers are described or hypothesized in the context of concurrent shifts in water quality and invertebrate populations. Tracking these trends and explaining driving factors will be critical to the management of lake conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)618-639
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Michael Agbeti and Elaine Ruzycki supported algal assessments of the GLNPO phytoplankton samples. Kitty Kennedy, Amy Kireta, and the crew of the R/V Lake Guardian supported sample collection. This research was 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. This is contribution number 567 of the Center for Water and the Environment, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.


  • Algae
  • Diatoms
  • Food webs
  • Phytoplankton
  • Trend analysis
  • Water quality


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