, Volume 381, Issue 1-3, pp 105-128

Salinity and fish effects on Salton Sea microecosystems: water chemistry and nutrient cycling

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A 15 month long experiment was undertaken to document responses of the Salton Sea biota to experimentally manipulated salinity levels (30, 39, 48, 57, and 65 g l-1) in 312-liter fiberglass tanks maintained outdoors. At two salinities (39 and 57 g l-1) microcosms were set up each having one small tilapia ( Oreochromis mossambicus) in order to assess its influence on the system. To 28 tanks filled with Salton Sea water diluted to 30 g l-1, different salts (NaCl, Na2SO_4, MgSO4 · 7H2O, KCl) were added in constant proportions to produce the desired salinity levels. Salton Sea shoreline sediment was added to the bottom of each tank, and inocula of algae and invertebrates were added on several occasions. Invertebrate populations, phytoplankton, periphyton, and water chemistry were monitored at regular intervals. This article present the results concerning water chemistry and nutrient cycling. There was no apparent increase in salinity over time, though ∼ 1190 l of tapwater with a salinity of ∼ 0.65 g l-1 were added to each tank during the experiment. Ionic composition varied both among treatments and over time to some degree. Ca2 concentrations were the same at all salinities, while K1 concentrations were >3 times greater at the highest salinity than at the lowest. pH showed little consistent variation among salinities until the last few months when it was higher by ∼ 0.4 units at the two higher salinities than at the lower ones; it was unaffected by fish. Absolute oxygen concentrations were negatively correlated with salinity, and occasionally depressed by the presence of fish. PO3-4, dissolved organic phosphorus, and particulate phosphorus concentrations were often reduced by 30–80% at 65 g l-1 relative to lower salinities and by the presence of fish. Early in the experiment NO2-3 concentrations were >2 times higher at 57 and 65 g l-1 than at lower salinities, but otherwise effects of salinity on dissolved forms of nitrogen were not marked; particulate nitrogen was much lower at 65 g l-1 than at other salinities and also was reduced by up to 90% by the presence of fish. Silica concentrations increased over time at all salinities, but, relative to those at lower salinities, were reduced by 60–90% at 65 g l-1 by abundant periphytic diatoms. The TN:TP ratio (molar basis) was 24–30 initially and 35–110 at the end of the experiment; it was positively correlated with salinity and the presence of fish. Mechanisms accounting for the above patterns involve principally the biological activities of phytoplankton and periphyton, as modified by grazing by Artemia franciscana and Gammarus mucronatus, and the feeding and metabolic activities of the tilapia. The large reduction in water column TN and TP levels brought about by the fast-growing, phyto- and zooplanktivorous tilapia suggest that amelioration of the Salton Sea's hypereutrophic state might be assisted by a large scale, sustained yield fish harvesting operation.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.