Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 165–178 | Cite as

Characterization of the Microcystis Bloom and Its Nitrogen Supply in San Francisco Estuary Using Stable Isotopes

  • P. W. Lehman
  • C. Kendall
  • M. A. Guerin
  • M. B. Young
  • S. R. Silva
  • G. L. Boyer
  • S. J. Teh


A suite of particulate and dissolved organic and inorganic stable isotopes were needed to determine the source of the nutrients and cells that initiate and sustain the toxic cyanobacteria bloom of Microcystis in San Francisco Estuary. Particulate and dissolved inorganic and organic matter in water and plankton samples were collected biweekly during Microcystis blooms in 2007 and 2008. Stable isotopes for particulate and dissolved organic matter, nitrate, and water (POM-δ 13C, POM-δ 15N, DOC-δ 13C, C/N ratio, NO3-δ 15N, NO3-δ 18O, H2O-δ 18O and H2O-δ 2H) were compared with Microcystis cell abundance, dissolved organic carbon, chlorophyll a, and toxic total microcystins concentration, as well as physical and chemical water quality variables, including streamflow. The isotopic composition of particulate organic matter, nitrate, and water differed for the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and varied along the salinity gradient. The variation of particulate organic matter and water isotopes suggested Microcystis primarily entered the estuary from the San Joaquin and Old Rivers, where it was most abundant. Nitrate isotopes along with streamflow variables indicated that the San Joaquin River was a source of nitrate to the estuary. However, stable isotope comparison of the nitrogen in Microcystis cells with the dissolved inorganic nitrate in the San Joaquin River indicated that nitrate was not the primary source of nitrogen that supported the bloom. Instead, ammonium from the Sacramento River was the likely sole source of the nitrogen for most of the bloom. Selective uptake of ammonium may have further contributed to the magnitude of the Microcystis bloom which increased with the percent of ammonium within the total dissolved inorganic nitrogen pool.


Microcystis Stable isotopes Nutrients Cyanobacteria bloom Estuary Streamflow 



Funding for this research was provided through a Delta Science grant to Drs. Lehman, Boyer and Teh with additional financial and facilities assistance from the California Department of Water Resources, UC Davis, the U. S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We also thank the reviewers for their careful review of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. W. Lehman
    • 1
  • C. Kendall
    • 2
  • M. A. Guerin
    • 3
  • M. B. Young
    • 2
  • S. R. Silva
    • 2
  • G. L. Boyer
    • 4
  • S. J. Teh
    • 5
  1. 1.California Department of Water ResourcesWest SacramentoUSA
  2. 2.United States Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA
  3. 3.Research Management AssociatesFairfieldUSA
  4. 4.College of Environmental Science and ForestryState University of New YorkSyracuseUSA
  5. 5.Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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