Pond bank access as an approach for managing toxic cyanobacteria in beef cattle pasture drinking water ponds

  • Alan E. Wilson
  • Michael F. Chislock
  • Zhen Yang
  • Mário U. G. Barros
  • John F. Roberts


Forty-one livestock drinking water ponds in Alabama beef cattle pastures during were surveyed during the late summer to generally understand water quality patterns in these important water resources. Since livestock drinking water ponds are prone to excess nutrients that typically lead to eutrophication, which can promote blooms of toxigenic phytoplankton such as cyanobacteria, we also assessed the threat of exposure to the hepatotoxin, microcystin. Eighty percent of the ponds studied contained measurable microcystin, while three of these ponds had concentrations above human drinking water thresholds set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (i.e., 0.3 μg/L). Water quality patterns in the livestock drinking water ponds contrasted sharply with patterns typically observed for temperate freshwater lakes and reservoirs. Namely, we found several non-linear relationships between phytoplankton abundance (measured as chlorophyll) and nutrients or total suspended solids. Livestock had direct access to all the study ponds. Consequently, the proportion of inorganic suspended solids (e.g., sediment) increased with higher concentrations of total suspended solids, which underlies these patterns. Unimodal relationships were also observed between microcystin and phytoplankton abundance or nutrients. Euglenoids were abundant in the four ponds with chlorophyll concentrations > 250 μg/L (and dominated three of these ponds), which could explain why ponds with high chlorophyll concentrations would have low microcystin concentrations. Based on observations made during sampling events and available water quality data, livestock-mediated bioturbation is causing elevated total suspended solids that lead to reduced phytoplankton abundance and microcystin despite high concentrations of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Thus, livestock could be used to manage algal blooms, including toxic secondary metabolites, in their drinking water ponds by allowing them to walk in the ponds to increase turbidity.


Animal health Cattle Eutrophication Microcystin Sediment Stoichiometry Total suspended solids Turbidity 



We would like to thank the Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents, including George Tabb, Jimmy Jones, Jimmy Smitherman, Richard Conway, and Tinsley Gregg, and Alabama beef producers for helping us get access to livestock drinking water ponds. We also appreciate the help of Vernon Anderson during sample collection and Riley Buley, Edna Fernandez, and Zhen Yang for comments that improved earlier versions of the manuscript. This project was supported by the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station and the Hatch program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


  1. Agouridis, C. T., Workman, S. R., Warner, R. C., & Jennings, G. D. (2005). Livestock grazing management impacts on stream water quality: a review. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 41, 591–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. An, J. S., & Carmichael, W. W. (1994). Use of colorimetric protein phosphatase inhibition assay and enzyme-linked immunosorbent-assay for the study of microcystins and nodularins. Toxicon, 32, 1495–1507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Badar, M., Batool, F., Khan, S. S., Khokhar, I., Qamar, M. K., & Yasir, C. (2017). Effects of microcystins toxins contaminated drinking water on hepatic problems in animals (cows and buffaloes) and toxins removal chemical method. Buffalo Bulletin, 36, 43–55.Google Scholar
  4. Beaulieu, M., Pick, F., Gregory-Eaves, I. (2013). Nutrients and water temperature are significant predictors of cyanobacterial biomass in a 1147 lakes dataset. Limnology and Oceanography 58, 1736–1746.Google Scholar
  5. Beaulieu, M., Pick, F., Palmer, M., Watson, S., Winter, J., Zurawell, R., & Gregory-Eaves, I. (2014). Comparing predictive cyanobacterial models from temperate regions. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 71, 1830–1839.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beaver, J. R., Manis, E. E., Loftin, K. A., Graham, J. L., Pollard, A. I., & Mitchell, R. M. (2014). Land use patterns, ecoregion, and microcystin relationships in US lakes and reservoirs: a preliminary evaluation. Harmful Algae, 36, 57–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bichsel, D., De Marco, P., Bispo, A. A., Ilg, C., Dias-Silva, K., Vieira, T. B., Correa, C. C., & Oertli, B. (2016). Water quality of rural ponds in the extensive agricultural landscape of the Cerrado (Brazil). Limnology, 17, 239–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carmichael, W. W., Azevedo, S., An, J. S., Molica, R. J. R., Jochimsen, E. M., Lau, S., Rinehart, K. L., Shaw, G. R., & Eaglesham, G. K. (2001). Human fatalities from cyanobacteria: chemical and biological evidence for cyanotoxins. Environmental Health Perspectives, 109, 663–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chagas, C. I., Kraemer, F. B., Santanatoglia, O. J., Paz, M., & Moretton, J. (2014). Biological water contamination in some cattle production fields of Argentina subjected to runoff and erosion. Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research, 12, 1008–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chislock, M. F., Doster, E., Zitomer, R. A., & Wilson, A. E. (2013). Eutrophication: causes, consequences, and controls in aquatic ecosystems. Nature Education Knowledge, 4, 10.Google Scholar
  11. Chislock, M. F., Sharp, K. L., & Wilson, A. E. (2014). Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii dominates under very low and high nitrogen-to-phosphorus ratios. Water Research, 49, 207–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davies-Colley, R. J., & Smith, D. G. (2001). Turbidity, suspended sediment, and water clarity: a review. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 37, 1085–1101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dawson, R. M. (1998). The toxicology of microcystins. Toxicon, 37, 953–962.Google Scholar
  14. Derlet, R. W., Goldman, C. R., & Connor, M. J. (2010). Reducing the impact of summer cattle grazing on water quality in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California: a proposal. Journal of Water and Health, 8, 326–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Downing, J. A., Watson, S. B., & McCauley, E. (2001). Predicting cyanobacteria dominance in lakes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 58, 1905–1908.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Duarte, C. M. (1992). Nutrient concentration of aquatic plants—patterns across species. Limnology and Oceanography, 37, 882–889.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Evans, D. M., Redpath, S. M., Elston, D. A., Evans, S. A., Mitchell, R. J., & Dennis, P. (2006). To graze or not to graze? Sheep, voles, forestry and nature conservation in the British uplands. Journal of Applied Ecology, 43, 499–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Falconer, I. R. (2001). Toxic cyanobacterial bloom problems in Australian waters: risks and impacts on human health. Phycologia, 40, 228–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gross, A., & Boyd, C. E. (1998). A digestive procedure for the simultaneous determination of total nitrogen and total phosphorus in pond water. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 29, 300–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mez, K., Beattie, K. A., Codd, G. A., Hanselmann, K., Hauser, B., Naegeli, H., & Preisig, H. R. (1997). Identification of a microcystin in benthic cyanobacteria linked to cattle deaths on alpine pastures in Switzerland. European Journal of Phycology, 32, 111–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Naegeli, H., Sahin, A., Braun, U., Hauser, B., Mez, K., Hanselmann, K., Preisig, H. R., Bivetti, A., & Eitel, J. (1997). Sudden deaths of cattle on Alpine pastures in South-Eastern Switzerland. Schweizer Archiv Fur Tierheilkunde, 139, 201–209.Google Scholar
  22. Sarnelle, O., Morrison, J., Kaul, R., Horst, G., Wandell, H., & Bednarz, R. (2010). Citizen monitoring: testing hypotheses about the interactive influences of eutrophication and mussel invasion on a cyanobacterial toxin in lakes. Water Research, 44, 141–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sartory, D. P., & Grobbelaar, J. U. (1984). Extraction of chlorophyll a from freshwater phytoplankton for spectrophotometric analysis. Hydrobiologia, 114, 177–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Scheffer, M., & van Nes, E. H. (2007). Shallow lakes theory revisited: various alternative regimes driven by climate, nutrients, depth and lake size. Hydrobiologia, 584, 455–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Silva, A. C., Souza, A. M., & Dutra, I. S. (2014). Occurrence of blue-green algae in the drinking water of extensively raised cattle. Pesquisa Veterinária Brasileira, 34, 415–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Song, H. H., Coggins, L. X., Reichwaldt, E. S., & Ghadouani, A. (2015). The importance of lake sediments as a pathway for microcystin dynamics in shallow eutrophic lakes. Toxins, 7, 900–918.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Straubinger-Gansberger, N., Kaggwa, M. N., & Schagerl, M. (2014). Phytoplankton patterns along a series of small man-made reservoirs in Kenya. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 186, 5153–5166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Taranu, Z. E., Gregory-Eaves, I., Steele, R. J., Beaulieu, M., & Legendre, P. (2017). Predicting microcystin concentrations in lakes and reservoirs at a continental scale: a new framework for modelling an important health risk factor. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 26, 625–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2015). Drinking water health advisory for the cyanobacterial toxins microcystins. EPA 820R15100. pp 1–67.
  30. van Halderen, A., Harding, W. R., Wessels, J. C., Schneider, D. J., Heine, E. W. P., van der Merwe, J., & Fourie, J. M. (1995). Cyanobacterial (blue-green algae) poisoning of livestock in the western cape province of South Africa. Regional Veterinary Laboratory, Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, 66(4), 260–264.Google Scholar
  31. Veira, D. M. (2007). Meeting water requirements of cattle on the Canadian prairies. Rangeland Journal, 29, 79–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Vollenweider, R. A. (1979). Concept of nutrient load as a basis for the external control of eutrophication process in lakes and reservoirs. Zeitschrift Fur Wasser Und Abwasser Forschung-Journal for Water and Wastewater Research, 12, 46–56.Google Scholar
  33. Wilson, A. E., Chislock, M. F., Doster, E., Wright, R. A., Kottwitz, J. J., Walz, H., & Rose, H. (2013). Toxic algae threaten livestock health. The Alabama Cattleman, 6, 16–17.Google Scholar
  34. Wood, R. (2016). Acute animal and human poisonings from cyanotoxin exposure—a review of the literature. Environment International, 91, 276–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wu, X. Q., Wang, C. B., Xiao, B. D., Wang, Y., Zheng, N., & Liu, J. S. (2012). Optimal strategies for determination of free/extractable and total microcystins in lake sediment. Analytica Chimica Acta, 709, 66–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan E. Wilson
    • 1
  • Michael F. Chislock
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zhen Yang
    • 1
  • Mário U. G. Barros
    • 1
  • John F. Roberts
    • 3
  1. 1.Auburn University, School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic SciencesAuburnUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science and EcologyThe College at Brockport – State University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Alabama Department of Agriculture and IndustriesThompson Bishop Sparks State Diagnostic LaboratoryAuburnUSA

Personalised recommendations