, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 371-385

Scales of nutrient-limited phytoplankton productivity in Chesapeake Bay

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The scales on which phytoplankton biomass vary in response to variable nutrient inputs depend on the nutrient status of the plankton community and on the capacity of consumers to respond to increases in phytoplankton productivity. Overenrichment and associated declines in water quality occur when phytoplankton growth rate becomes nutrient-saturated, the production and consumption of phytoplankton biomass become uncoupled in time and space, and phytoplankton biomass becomes high and varies on scales longer than phytoplankton generation times. In Chesapeake Bay, phytoplankton growth rates appear to be limited by dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP) during spring when biomass reaches its annual maximum and by dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) during summer when phytoplankton growth rates are highest. However, despite high inputs of DIN and dissolved silicate (DSi) relative to DIP (molar ratios of N∶P and Si∶P>100), seasonal accumulations of phytoplankton biomass within the salt-intruded-reach of the bay appear to be limited by riverine DIN supply while the magnitude of the spring diatom bloom is governed by DSi supply. Seasonal imbalances between biomass production and consumption lead to massive accumulations of phytoplankton biomass (often>1,000 mg Chl-a m−2) during spring, to spring-summer oxygen depletion (summer bottom water <20% saturation), and to exceptionally high levels of annual phytoplankton production (>400 g m−2 yr−1). Nitrogen-dependent seasonal accumulations of phytoplankton biomass and annual production occur as a consequence of differences in the rates and pathways of nitrogen and phosphorus cycling within the bay and underscore the importance of controlling nitrogen inputs to the mesohaline and lower reaches of the bay.