Recent blooms of the dinoflagellate Ceratium in Albert Falls Dam (KZN): History, causes, spatial features and impacts on a reservoir ecosystem and its zooplankton

Rob C. Hart, Peter D. Wragg

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A lake-wide bloom of the dinoflagellate Ceratium hirundinella, discovered in Albert Falls Dam in October 2006, exposed a significant ecological change indicative of reduced water quality in this historically mesotrophic reservoir. The spatial distribution of the bloom was examined synoptically in October 2006 and January 2007; these surveys revealed generally higher dinoflagellate densities in inshore reaches of the lake, and especially in the discharge plume of the inflowing Mgeni River. Ceratium totally dominated the phytoplankton assemblage, accounting almost completely for coincident chlorophyll levels, which generally increased with depth to generate a 'deep' chlorophyll maximum. Vertical oxygen profiles during the bloom differed substantially from corresponding profiles during non-bloom conditions historically typical in this reservoir. Direct count data and ordination analysis using non-metric multidimensional scaling exposed marked changes in zooplankton community structure compared to seasonally congruent non-bloom conditions in other years. Changes included the effective replacement of Moina by Bosmina, substantial reductions in Daphnia and Ceriodaphnia, and smaller but definite increases in abundance especially of calanoid copepods, as well as cyclopoid copepods and of Chaoborus, although not all of these differences were apparent in both survey months. These compositional changes are attributable to intrinsic differences in feeding biology among taxa and their associated susceptibility to the altered food environment, which was commensurate with Ceratium's emergence. In addition, chydorid cladocerans appeared as a new (but spatially restricted) eutrophic bio-indicator component of the zooplankton, and the species diversity of cyclopoid copepods was enriched. The historical incidence of Ceratium in the lake since 1995 coincided with low NO3-N:TP values (used here as an N:P ratio proxy), particularly of inflow waters, and with broadly coincident values in the open lake. Ceratium was present but sparse in 1995, at average N:P ratios around 5.5. It disappeared in 1996 when the ratio increased radically to >10, and reappeared in 2004 after an erratic decline of the ratio to < 5 in the lake. The decline in N:P ratio of inflow waters since 1996 was clearly associated with a consistent rise in TP levels in inflows, most plausibly attributable to inputs of (Howick) wastewater treatment (WWT) plant origin. The appearance of Ceratium blooms is accordingly related to progressive elevations in mean annual P concentrations in inflows from ∼40 μg/l in 1995 to 120 μg/l in 2007 (broadly mirrored in annual TP loadings), suggesting that improved operational efficiency (and capacity) of the WWT plant offers a plausible prospect for mitigation and reversal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-468
Number of pages14
JournalWater SA
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Dinoflagellate blooms
  • Ecosystem consequences
  • Eutrophication
  • Mitigation prospects
  • Plankton community composition
  • Water-quality


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