Perpetual Phosphorus Cycling: Eutrophication Amplifies Biological Control on Internal Phosphorus Loading in Agricultural Reservoirs
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Nearly half of US lakes are impaired, primarily resulting from excessive nutrients and resultant eutrophication. The stability and recycling of sediment P results in differing degrees of internal P loading, which can alter lake water quality. In this study, we asked: (1) What are the underlying mechanisms controlling internal loading (net release) and retention of P? and (2) How does trophic state, specifically a hypereutrophic condition, affect internal P loading in agricultural reservoirs? We show that shifts in internal P loading are related to trophic-level indicators, including total P (TP) and chl-a concentrations. All study reservoirs were classified as hypereutrophic, and we grouped them as “less eutrophic” or “more eutrophic” based on TP and chl-a concentrations. In less eutrophic lakes, chemical variables (for example, oxygen) and sediment iron-bound P primarily controlled internal P loading under anaerobic conditions. However, in the more eutrophic lakes, biological variables, including phytoplankton biomass (as indicated by chl-a concentrations) and extracellular enzyme activity, drove internal P loading or reduced P retention under aerobic conditions. Biologically controlled aerobic internal P cycling was related to higher sediment organic P pools being broken down by enzymatic hydrolysis. Therefore, we theorize that as lakes become hypereutrophic, biological mechanisms begin to amplify internal P release by acting under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions, thus creating a perpetual cycle of internal P loading. Thus, the role of biological processes and oxygen availability should be considered in water quality management strategies aimed at alleviating eutrophication in lakes.
Keywordseutrophication internal phosphorus cycling oxygen availability biological activity sediment P fractionation chemical precipitation
This study was funded by Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. We also thank to Craig Adams, David Moscicki, Cain Silvey, and Carrie Adkisson for their field and laboratory support. We thank the Kansas Biological Survey–Friday Ecology Seminar group for stimulating conversations on these ideas. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments to improve this manuscript.
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