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Concept: Eutrophication


Macrophyte decomposition is important for carbon and nutrient cycling in lake ecosystems. Currently, little is known about how this process responds to detritus quality and water nutrient conditions in eutrophic shallow lakes in which incomplete decomposition of detritus accelerates the lake terrestrialization process. In this study, we investigated the effects of detritus quality and water nutrient concentrations on macrophyte decomposition in Lake Baiyangdian, China, by analyzing the decomposition of three major aquatic plants at three sites with different pollution intensities (low, medium, and high pollution sites). Detritus quality refers to detritus nutrient contents as well as C:N, C:P, and N:P mass ratios in this study. Effects of detritus mixtures were tested by combining pairs of representative macrophytes at ratios of 75:25, 50:50 and 25:75 (mass basis). The results indicate that the influence of species types on decomposition was stronger than that of site conditions. Correlation analysis showed that mass losses at the end of the experimental period were significantly controlled by initial detritus chemistry, especially by the initial phosphorus (P) content, carbon to nitrogen (C:N), and carbon to phosphorus (C:P) mass ratios in the detritus. The decomposition processes were also influenced by water chemistry. The NO(3)-N and NH(4)-N concentrations in the lake water retarded detritus mass loss at the low and high pollution sites, respectively. Net P mineralization in detritus was observed at all sites and detritus P release at the high pollution site was slower than at the other two sites. Nonadditive effects of mixtures tended to be species specific due to the different nutrient contents in each species. Results suggest that the nonadditive effects varied significantly among different sites, indicating that interactions between the detritus quality in species mixtures and site water chemistry may be another driver controlling decomposition in eutrophic shallow lakes.

Concepts: Oxygen, Plant, Lake, Eutrophication, Hydrogen, Water pollution, Nitrogen, Lakes


Urban water systems are impacted by land use within their source watersheds, as it affects raw water quality and thus the costs of water treatment. However, global estimates of the effect of land cover change on urban water-treatment costs have been hampered by a lack of global information on urban source watersheds. Here, we use a unique map of the urban source watersheds for 309 large cities (population > 750,000), combined with long-term data on anthropogenic land-use change in their source watersheds and data on water-treatment costs. We show that anthropogenic activity is highly correlated with sediment and nutrient pollution levels, which is in turn highly correlated with treatment costs. Over our study period (1900-2005), median population density has increased by a factor of 5.4 in urban source watersheds, whereas ranching and cropland use have increased by a factor of 3.4 and 2.0, respectively. Nearly all (90%) of urban source watersheds have had some level of watershed degradation, with the average pollutant yield of urban source watersheds increasing by 40% for sediment, 47% for phosphorus, and 119% for nitrogen. We estimate the degradation of watersheds over our study period has impacted treatment costs for 29% of cities globally, with operation and maintenance costs for impacted cities increasing on average by 53 ± 5% and replacement capital costs increasing by 44 ± 14%. We discuss why this widespread degradation might be occurring, and strategies cities have used to slow natural land cover loss.

Concepts: Water, Eutrophication, Water pollution, City, Pollution, Land use, Rural economics, Land cover


In 2011, Lake Erie experienced the largest harmful algal bloom in its recorded history, with a peak intensity over three times greater than any previously observed bloom. Here we show that long-term trends in agricultural practices are consistent with increasing phosphorus loading to the western basin of the lake, and that these trends, coupled with meteorological conditions in spring 2011, produced record-breaking nutrient loads. An extended period of weak lake circulation then led to abnormally long residence times that incubated the bloom, and warm and quiescent conditions after bloom onset allowed algae to remain near the top of the water column and prevented flushing of nutrients from the system. We further find that all of these factors are consistent with expected future conditions. If a scientifically guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Time, Water, Eutrophication, Algal bloom, Phosphorus, Dinoflagellate


Recent shifts in the ecological condition of Walden Pond, MA, are of potentially wide interest due to the lake’s importance as a cultural, historical, and recreational resource in addition to its scientific value as an indicator of local and global environmental change. Algal microfossils in six sediment cores document changes in hydroclimate and trophic status of the lake during the last 1800 years and extend two previous sediment core records of shorter length. Low percentages of planktonic diatoms in the longest cores (WAL-3, WAL-15) indicate shallowing and/or greater water clarity associated with a relatively arid interval during the Medieval Climate Anomaly, ca. A.D. 1150-1300, Cultural eutrophication of the lake since the A.D. 1920s caused diatoms in the genera Asterionella and Synedra to increase in relative abundance at the expense of Cyclotella, Discostella, and the chrysophyte alga Mallomonas allorgei. Percentages of Asterionella and Synedra have remained fairly stable since A.D. 2000 when a previous sediment core study was conducted, but scaled chrysophytes have become more numerous. These findings suggest that, although mitigation efforts have curtailed anthropogenic nutrient inputs to Walden Pond, the lake has not returned to the pre-impact condition described by Henry David Thoreau and may become increasingly vulnerable to further changes in water quality in a warmer and possibly wetter future.

Concepts: Algae, Lake, Eutrophication, Water pollution, Henry David Thoreau, Concord, Massachusetts, Walden, Walden Pond


Phosphorus losses from land to water will be impacted by climate change and land management for food production, with detrimental impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Here we use a unique combination of methods to evaluate the impact of projected climate change on future phosphorus transfers, and to assess what scale of agricultural change would be needed to mitigate these transfers. We combine novel high-frequency phosphorus flux data from three representative catchments across the UK, a new high-spatial resolution climate model, uncertainty estimates from an ensemble of future climate simulations, two phosphorus transfer models of contrasting complexity and a simplified representation of the potential intensification of agriculture based on expert elicitation from land managers. We show that the effect of climate change on average winter phosphorus loads (predicted increase up to 30% by 2050s) will be limited only by large-scale agricultural changes (e.g., 20-80% reduction in phosphorus inputs).The impact of climate change on phosphorus (P) loss from land to water is unclear. Here, the authors use P flux data, climate simulations and P transfer models to show that only large scale agricultural change will limit the effect of climate change on average winter P loads in three catchments across the UK.

Concepts: Agriculture, Eutrophication, Climate, Ecosystem, United Kingdom, Management, Climate change, Aquatic ecosystem


Increasing diffuse nitrate loading of surface waters and groundwater has emerged as a major problem in many agricultural areas of the world, resulting in contamination of drinking water resources in aquifers as well as eutrophication of freshwaters and coastal marine ecosystems. Although empirical correlations between application rates of N fertilizers to agricultural soils and nitrate contamination of adjacent hydrological systems have been demonstrated, the transit times of fertilizer N in the pedosphere-hydrosphere system are poorly understood. We investigated the fate of isotopically labeled nitrogen fertilizers in a three-decade-long in situ tracer experiment that quantified not only fertilizer N uptake by plants and retention in soils, but also determined to which extent and over which time periods fertilizer N stored in soil organic matter is rereleased for either uptake in crops or export into the hydrosphere. We found that 61-65% of the applied fertilizers N were taken up by plants, whereas 12-15% of the labeled fertilizer N were still residing in the soil organic matter more than a quarter century after tracer application. Between 8-12% of the applied fertilizer had leaked toward the hydrosphere during the 30-y observation period. We predict that additional exports of (15)N-labeled nitrate from the tracer application in 1982 toward the hydrosphere will continue for at least another five decades. Therefore, attempts to reduce agricultural nitrate contamination of aquatic systems must consider the long-term legacy of past applications of synthetic fertilizers in agricultural systems and the nitrogen retention capacity of agricultural soils.

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Fertilizer, Eutrophication, Soil, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Manure


Seabirds drastically transform the environmental conditions of the sites where they establish their breeding colonies via soil, sediment, and water eutrophication (hereafter termed ornitheutrophication). Here, we report worldwide amounts of total nitrogen (N) and total phosphorus (P) excreted by seabirds using an inventory of global seabird populations applied to a bioenergetics model. We estimate these fluxes to be 591 Gg N y-1 and 99 Gg P y-1, respectively, with the Antarctic and Southern coasts receiving the highest N and P inputs. We show that these inputs are of similar magnitude to others considered in global N and P cycles, with concentrations per unit of surface area in seabird colonies among the highest measured on the Earth’s surface. Finally, an important fraction of the total excreted N (72.5 Gg y-1) and P (21.8 Gg y-1) can be readily solubilized, increasing their short-term bioavailability in continental and coastal waters located near the seabird colonies.

Concepts: Agriculture, Eutrophication, Earth, Nitrogen, Seabird, Excretion, Southern Ocean, Antarctic


Cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) are ubiquitous in aquatic environments. Some species produce potent toxins that can sicken or kill people, domestic animals, and wildlife. Dogs are particularly vulnerable to cyanotoxin poisoning because of their tendency to swim in and drink contaminated water during algal blooms or to ingestalgal mats.. Here, we summarize reports of suspected or confirmed canine cyanotoxin poisonings in the U.S. from three sources: (1) The Harmful Algal Bloom-related Illness Surveillance System (HABISS) of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); (2) Retrospective case files from a large, regional veterinary hospital in California; and (3) Publicly available scientific and medical manuscripts; written media; and web-based reports from pet owners, veterinarians, and other individuals. We identified 231 discreet cyanobacteria harmful algal bloom (cyanoHAB) events and 368 cases of cyanotoxin poisoning associated with dogs throughout the U.S. between the late 1920s and 2012. The canine cyanotoxin poisoning events reviewed here likely represent a small fraction of cases that occur throughout the U.S. each year.

Concepts: Algae, Cyanobacteria, Photosynthesis, Eutrophication, United States, Algal bloom, Dinoflagellate, Cyanotoxin


Inorganic nitrate has been shown to reduce oxygen cost during exercise. Since the nitrate-nitrite-NO pathway is facilitated during hypoxia, we investigated the effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen consumption and cardiovascular responses during apnea. These variables were measured in two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover protocols at rest and ergometer exercise in competitive breath-hold divers. Subjects held their breath for predetermined times along with maximum effort apneas after two separate 3-day periods with supplementation of potassium nitrate/placebo. In contrast to our hypothesis, nitrate supplementation led to lower arterial oxygen saturation (SaO(2), 77±3%) compared to placebo (80±2%) during static apnea, along with lower end-tidal fraction of oxygen (FETO(2)) after 4min of apnea (nitrate 6.9±0.4% vs. placebo 7.6±0.4%). Maximum apnea duration was shorter after nitrate (329±13s) compared to placebo (344±13s). During cycle ergometry nitrate had no effect on SaO(2), FETO(2) or maximum apnea duration. The negative effects of inorganic nitrate during static apnea may be explained by an attenuated diving response.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Blood, Effect, Eutrophication, Free-diving


Leaking sewer infrastructure contributes non-point nitrogen pollution to ground- and surface water in urban watersheds. However, these inputs are poorly quantified in watershed budgets, potentially underestimating pollution loadings. In this study, we used inverse methods to constrain dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) inputs from sewage to Nine Mile Run (NMR), an urban watershed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA). NMR drains a 1,570 ha watershed characterized by extensive impervious surface cover (38%) and surface and groundwater impacts from combined sewer overflows and leaky sewers. Water samples were collected bi-weekly over two years and intensive sampling was conducted during one summer storm. A nitrogen budget for the NMR watershed was built using known inputs/exports and retention estimates from published studies. These variables were ultimately inverted and sewage DIN inputs constrained using Monte Carlo simulation. Results indicate that DIN contributions from sewage range from 6 to 14 kg ha-1yr-1. When reasonable estimates of inputs are considered, the NMR budget cannot be balanced without taking sewage into account. Further, when conservative estimates of DIN from sewage are included in input calculations, DIN retention in NMR is comparable to high rates observed in other suburban/urban nutrient budgets (maximum likelihood retention estimate=84%).

Concepts: Agriculture, Water, Eutrophication, Water pollution, Hydrology, Monte Carlo, Sanitary sewer, Strategic misrepresentation