Predicting cyanobacteria dominance in lakes

J. A. Downing, S. B. Watson, E. McCauley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

621 Scopus citations


A controversial precept of aquatic ecology asserts that low ratios of nitrogen to phosphorus (N:P) leadto noxious and sometimes toxic blooms of Cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria dominance is a major risk to human and ecosystem health. The stoichiometric control of Cyanobacteria therefore has become central to freshwater resource management. This controversial concept is based on observed Cyanobacteria dominance in lakes with low N:P and theresults of lab and field experiments. Here we analyze data from 99 of the temperate zone's most studied lakes and show that this model is flawed. We show that the risk of water quality degradation by Cyanobacteria blooms is more strongly correlated with variation in total P, total N, or standing algae biomass than the ratio of N:P. Risks associated with Cyanobacteria are therefore less associated with N:P ratios than a simple increase in nutrient concentrations and algal biomass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1905-1908
Number of pages4
JournalCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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