, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 1188-1201
Date: 25 Dec 2013

Increasing Severity of Phytoplankton Nutrient Limitation Following Reductions in Point Source Inputs to the Tidal Freshwater Segment of the James River Estuary

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We conducted monthly bioassay experiments to characterize light and nutrient use efficiency of phytoplankton communities from the chlorophyll-a maximum located in the tidal freshwater region of the James River Estuary. Bioassay results were interpreted in the context of seasonal and inter-annual variation in nutrient delivery and biomass yield using recent and long-term data. Bioassay experiments suggest that nutrient limitation of phytoplankton production has increased over the past 20 years coinciding with reductions in point source inputs and estuarine dissolved nutrient concentrations. Despite increasing nutrient stress, chlorophyll concentrations have not declined due to more efficient nutrient usage. Greater CHLa yield (per unit of N and P) may be due to feedback mechanisms by which the presence of toxin-producing cyanobacteria inhibits grazing by benthic and pelagic filter-feeders. Seasonal patterns in nutrient limitation indicate that phytoplankton in the James respond to variations in inflow concentrations of dissolved nutrients. This association gives rise to an atypical pattern whereby the severity of nutrient limitation diminishes with low discharge in late summer due to minimal dilution of local point sources inputs by riverine discharge. We suggest that this may be a common feature of estuaries located in proximity to urbanized areas.

Communicated by Jacob Carstensen