skip to main content

Title: Harmful algal blooms and cyanotoxins in Lake Amatitlán, Guatemala, coincided with ancient Maya occupation in the watershed
Human-induced deforestation and soil erosion were environmental stressors for the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica. Furthermore, intense, periodic droughts during the Terminal Classic Period, ca. Common Era 830 to 950, have been documented from lake sediment cores and speleothems. Today, lakes worldwide that are surrounded by dense human settlement and intense riparian land use often develop algae/cyanobacteria blooms that can compromise water quality by depleting oxygen and producing toxins. Such environmental impacts have rarely been explored in the context of ancient Maya settlement. We measured nutrients, biomarkers for cyanobacteria, and the cyanotoxin microcystin in a sediment core from Lake Amatitlán, highland Guatemala, which spans the last ∼2,100 y. The lake is currently hypereutrophic and characterized by high cyanotoxin concentrations from persistent blooms of the cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa . Our paleolimnological data show that harmful cyanobacteria blooms and cyanotoxin production occurred during periods of ancient Maya occupation. Highest prehistoric concentrations of cyanotoxins in the sediment coincided with alterations of the water system in the Maya city of Kaminaljuyú, and changes in nutrient stoichiometry and maximum cyanobacteria abundance were coeval with times of greatest ancient human populations in the watershed. These prehistoric episodes of cyanobacteria proliferation and cyanotoxin production rivaled modern conditions in more » the lake, with respect to both bloom magnitude and toxicity. This suggests that pre-Columbian Maya occupation of the Lake Amatitlán watershed negatively impacted water potability. Prehistoric cultural eutrophication indicates that human-driven nutrient enrichment of water bodies is not an exclusively modern phenomenon and may well have been a stressor for the ancient Maya. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1755125
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10317472
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume:
118
Issue:
48
ISSN:
0027-8424
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Green Lake is the deepest natural inland lake in Wisconsin, with a maximum depth of about 72 meters. In the early 1900s, the lake was believed to have very good water quality (low nutrient concentrations and good water clarity) with low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations occurring in only the deepest part of the lake. Because of increased phosphorus (P) inputs from anthropogenic activities in its watershed, total phosphorus (TP) concentrations in the lake have increased; these changes have led to increased algal production and low DO concentrations not only in the deepest areas but also in the middle of the water column (metalimnion). The U.S. Geological Survey has routinely monitored the lake since 2004 and its tributaries since 1988. Results from this monitoring led the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to list the lake as impaired because of low DO concentrations in the metalimnion, and they identified elevated TP concentrations as the cause of impairment. As part of this study by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Green Lake Sanitary District, the lake and its tributaries were comprehensively sampled in 2017–18 to augment ongoing monitoring that would further describe the low DO concentrations in the lake (especiallymore »in the metalimnion). Empirical and process-driven water-quality models were then used to determine the causes of the low DO concentrations and the magnitudes of P-load reductions needed to improve the water quality of the lake enough to meet multiple water-quality goals, including the WDNR’s criteria for TP and DO. Data from previous studies showed that DO concentrations in the metalimnion decreased slightly as summer progressed in the early 1900s but, since the late 1970s, have typically dropped below 5 milligrams per liter (mg/L), which is the WDNR criterion for impairment. During 2014–18 (the baseline period for this study), the near-surface geometric mean TP concentration during June–September in the east side of the lake was 0.020 mg/L and in the west side was 0.016 mg/L (both were above the 0.015-mg/L WDNR criterion for the lake), and the metalimnetic DO minimum concentrations (MOMs) measured in August ranged from 1.0 to 4.7 mg/L. The degradation in water quality was assumed to have been caused by excessive P inputs to the lake; therefore, the TP inputs to the lake were estimated. The mean annual external P load during 2014–18 was estimated to be 8,980 kilograms per year (kg/yr), of which monitored and unmonitored tributary inputs contributed 84 percent, atmospheric inputs contributed 8 percent, waterfowl contributed 7 percent, and septic systems contributed 1 percent. During fall turnover, internal sediment recycling contributed an additional 7,040 kilograms that increased TP concentrations in shallow areas of the lake by about 0.020 mg/L. The elevated TP concentrations then persisted until the following spring. On an annual basis, however, there was a net deposition of P to the bottom sediments. Empirical models were used to describe how the near-surface water quality of Green Lake would be expected to respond to changes in external P loading. Predictions from the models showed a relatively linear response between P loading and TP and chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) concentrations in the lake, with the changes in TP and Chl-a concentrations being less on a percentage basis (50–60 percent for TP and 30–70 percent for Chl-a) than the changes in P loading. Mean summer water clarity, quantified by Secchi disk depths, had a greater response to decreases in P loading than to increases in P loading. Based on these relations, external P loading to the lake would need to be decreased from 8,980 kg/yr to about 5,460 kg/yr for the geometric mean June–September TP concentration in the east side of the lake, with higher TP concentrations than in the west side, to reach the WDNR criterion of 0.015 mg/L. This reduction of 3,520 kg/yr is equivalent to a 46-percent reduction in the potentially controllable external P sources (all external sources except for precipitation, atmospheric deposition, and waterfowl) from those measured during water years 2014–18. The total external P loading would need to decrease to 7,680 kg/yr (a 17-percent reduction in potentially controllable external P sources) for near-surface June–September TP concentrations in the west side of the lake to reach 0.015 mg/L. Total external P loading would need to decrease to 3,870–5,320 kg/yr for the lake to be classified as oligotrophic, with a near-surface June–September TP concentration of 0.012 mg/L. Results from the hydrodynamic water-quality model GLM–AED (General Lake Model coupled to the Aquatic Ecodynamics modeling library) indicated that MOMs are driven by external P loading and internal sediment recycling that lead to high TP concentrations during spring and early summer, which in turn lead to high phytoplankton production, high metabolism and respiration, and ultimately DO consumption in the upper, warmer areas of the metalimnion. GLM–AED results indicated that settling of organic material during summer might be slowed by the colder, denser, and more viscous water in the metalimnion and thus increase DO consumption. Based on empirical evidence from a comparison of MOMs with various meteorological, hydrologic, water quality, and in-lake physical factors, MOMs were lower during summers, when metalimnetic water temperatures were warmer, near-surface Chl-a and TP concentrations were higher, and Secchi depths were lower. GLM–AED results indicated that the external P load would need to be reduced to about 4,060 kg/yr, a 57-percent reduction from that measured in 2014–18, to eliminate the occurrence of MOMs less than 5 mg/L during more than 75 percent of the years (the target provided by the WDNR). Large reductions in external P loading are expected to have an immediate effect on the near-surface TP concentrations and metalimnetic DO concentrations in Green Lake; however, it may take several years for the full effects of the external-load reduction to be observed because internal sediment recycling is an important source of P for the following spring.« less
  2. Abstract

    The Faroe Islands, a North Atlantic archipelago between Norway and Iceland, were settled by Viking explorers in the mid-9th century CE. However, several indirect lines of evidence suggest earlier occupation of the Faroes by people from the British Isles. Here, we present sedimentary ancient DNA and molecular fecal biomarker evidence from a lake sediment core proximal to a prominent archaeological site in the Faroe Islands to establish the earliest date for the arrival of people in the watershed. Our results reveal an increase in fecal biomarker concentrations and the first appearance of sheep DNA at 500 CE (95% confidence interval 370-610 CE), pre-dating Norse settlements by 300 years. Sedimentary plant DNA indicates an increase in grasses and the disappearance of woody plants, likely due to livestock grazing. This provides unequivocal evidence for human arrival and livestock disturbance in the Faroe Islands centuries before Viking settlement in the 9th century.

  3. Changes in mixing regimes and CO2 availability may promote harmful cyanobacterial blooms in polymictic lakes and ponds globally, but the underlying mechanisms still remain unclear. We integrated results from a natural experiment comprising an average-wet year (2011) and one with heat waves (2012), a long-term meteorological dataset (1960–2010), historical phosphorus concentrations and corresponding sedimentary pigment records, to determine, on different temporal scales, the mechanistic controls of cyanobacterial blooms in a eutrophic polymictic lake. Intense warming in 2012 was associated with: 1) increased stability of the water column with buoyancy frequencies exceeding 40 cph at the surface, 2) high phytoplankton biomass in spring (up to 125 mg WW L-1), 3) reduced downward transport of heat and 4) persistently depleted epilimnetic CO2 concentrations. CO2 depletion was effectively maintained by intense uptake by phytoplankton (influx up to 30 mmol m-2 d-1) in combination with reduced carbon inputs from the watershed during dry periods. Under eutrophic conditions these effects triggered massive bloom of buoyant cyanobacteria (up to 300 mg WW L-1). Complementary evidence from polynomial regression modelling using long-term datasets revealed that warming is the most important predictor of cyanobacterial abundance during the second half of the last century explaining 78% of the observedmore »positive trend, whereas phosphorus concentration explained only 10% thereof. Together the results from the interannual comparison and the multi-decadal record indicate that hotter and drier climates increase water column stratification and decrease CO2 availability in eutrophic polymictic lakes. This combination catalyzes blooms of buoyant cyanobacteria.« less
  4. Blooms of planktonic cyanobacteria have long been of concern in lakes, but more recently, harmful impacts of riverine benthic cyanobacterial mats been recognized. As yet, we know little about how various benthic cyanobacteria are distributed in river networks, or how environmental conditions or other associated microbes in their consortia affect their biosynthetic capacities. We performed metagenomic sequencing for 22 Oscillatoriales-dominated (Cyanobacteria) microbial mats collected across the Eel River network in Northern California and investigated factors associated with anatoxin-a producing cyanobacteria. All microbial communities were dominated by one or two cyanobacterial species, so the key mat metabolisms involve oxygenic photosynthesis and carbon oxidation. Only a few metabolisms fueled the growth of the mat communities, with little evidence for anaerobic metabolic pathways. We genomically defined four cyanobacterial species, all which shared <96% average nucleotide identity with reference Oscillatoriales genomes and are potentially novel species in the genus Microcoleus. One of the Microcoleus species contained the anatoxin-a biosynthesis genes, and we describe the first anatoxin-a gene cluster from the Microcoleus clade within Oscillatoriales. Occurrence of these four Microcoleus species in the watershed was correlated with total dissolved nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, and the species that contains the anatoxin-a gene cluster was found inmore »sites with higher nitrogen concentrations. Microbial assemblages in mat samples with the anatoxin-a gene cluster consistently had a lower abundance of Burkholderiales (Betaproteobacteria) species than did mats without the anatoxin-producing genes. The associations of water nutrient concentrations and certain co-occurring microbes with anatoxin-a producing Microcoleus motivate further exploration for their roles as potential controls on the distributions of toxigenic benthic cyanobacteria in river networks.« less
  5. Rudi, Knut (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) degrade freshwater ecosystems globally. Microcystis aeruginosa often dominates cyanoHABs and produces microcystin (MC), a class of hepatotoxins that poses threats to human and animal health. Microcystin toxicity is influenced by distinct structural elements across a diversity of related molecules encoded by variant mcy operons. However, the composition and distribution of mcy operon variants in natural blooms remain poorly understood. Here, we characterized the variant composition of mcy genes in western Lake Erie Microcystis blooms from 2014 and 2018. Sampling was conducted across several spatial and temporal scales, including different bloom phases within 2014, extensive spatial coverage on the same day (2018), and frequent, autonomous sampling over a 2-week period (2018). Mapping of metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequences to reference sequences revealed three Microcystis mcy genotypes: complete (all genes present [ mcyA–J ]), partial (truncated mcyA , complete mcyBC , and missing mcyD–J ), and absent (no mcy genes). We also detected two different variants of mcyB that may influence the production of microcystin congeners. The relative abundance of these genotypes was correlated with pH and nitrate concentrations. Metatranscriptomic analysis revealed that partial operons were, at times, the most abundant genotype and expressed in situ ,more »suggesting the potential biosynthesis of truncated products. Quantification of genetic divergence between genotypes suggests that the observed strains are the result of preexisting heterogeneity rather than de novo mutation during the sampling period. Overall, our results show that natural Microcystis populations contain several cooccurring mcy genotypes that dynamically shift in abundance spatiotemporally via strain succession and likely influence the observed diversity of the produced congeners. IMPORTANCE Cyanobacteria are responsible for producing microcystins (MCs), a class of potent and structurally diverse toxins, in freshwater systems around the world. While microcystins have been studied for over 50 years, the diversity of their chemical forms and how this variation is encoded at the genetic level remain poorly understood, especially within natural populations of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs). Here, we leverage community DNA and RNA sequences to track shifts in mcy genes responsible for producing microcystin, uncovering the relative abundance, expression, and variation of these genes. We studied this phenomenon in western Lake Erie, which suffers annually from cyanoHAB events, with impacts on drinking water, recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing.« less