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Title: Responses of benthic algae to nutrient enrichment in a shallow lake: Linking community production, biomass, and composition

Understanding how nutrient limitation affects algal biomass and production is a long‐standing interest in aquatic ecology. Nutrients can influence these whole‐community characteristics through several mechanisms, including shifting community composition. Therefore, incorporating the joint responses of biomass, taxonomic composition, and production of algal communities, and relationships among them, is important for understanding effects of nutrient enrichment.

In shallow subarctic Lake Mývatn, Iceland, benthic algae compose a majority of whole‐lake primary production, support high secondary production, and influence nutrient cycling. Given the importance of these ecosystem processes, the factors that limit benthic algae have a large effect on the function and dynamics of the Mývatn system.

In a 33‐day nutrient enrichment experiment conducted in Lake Mývatn, we measured the joint responses of benthic algal biomass, primary production, and composition to nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) supplementation. We enriched N and P using nutrient‐diffusing agar overlain by sediment, with three levels of N and P that were crossed in a factorial design.

We found little evidence of community‐wide nutrient limitation, as chlorophyll‐aconcentrations showed a negligible response to nutrients. Gross primary production (GPP) was unaffected by P and inhibited by N enrichment after 10 days, although the inhibitory effect of N diminished by day 33.

In contrast to biomass and primary production, community composition was strongly affected by N and marginally affected by P, with some algal groups increasing and others decreasing with enrichment. The taxa with the most negative and positive responses to N enrichment were Fragilariaceae andScenedesmus, respectively.

The abundances of particular algal groups, based on standardised cell counts, were related toGPPmeasured at the end of the experiment.Oocystiswas negatively associated withGPPbut was unaffected by N or P, while Fragilariaceae andScenedesmuswere positively associated withGPPbut had opposite responses to N. As a result, nutrient‐induced compositional shifts did not alterGPP.

Overall, our results show that nutrient enrichment can have large effects on algal community composition while having little effect on total biomass and primary production. Our study suggests that nutrient‐driven compositional shifts may not alter the overall ecological function of algal communities if (1) taxa have contrasting responses to nutrient enrichment but have similar effects on ecological processes, and/or (2) taxa that have strong influences on ecological function are not strongly affected by nutrients.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Date Published:
Journal Name:
Freshwater Biology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1833-1847
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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