, Volume 381, Issue 1–3, pp 105–128 | Cite as

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

  • Maria R. González
  • Cheryl M. Hart
  • Joseph R. Verfaillie
  • Stuart H. Hurlbert


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.

Microcosms Salton Sea saline lakes microcosms salinity ionic composition oxygen pH nutrients nitrogen phosphorus silicon fish grazing Oreochromis mossambicus Gammarus mucronatus Artemia 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. APHA, 1985. Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 16th edn., American Public Health Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  2. Atkinson, M. J., 1987. Low Phosphorus sediments in a Hypersaline Marine bay. Estuarine coast. shelf Sci. 24: 335–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bierhuizen, J. F. H. & E. E. Prepas, 1985. Relationship between nutrients, dominant ions, and phytoplankton standing crop in Prairie Saline Lakes. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 42: 1588–1594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Black, G. F., 1983. Prognosis for water conservation and the development of energy resources at the Salton Sea: Destruction of preservation of this ecosystem? In V. D. Adamas & V. A. Lamarra (eds), Aquatic Resources Management of the Colorado River Ecosystem. Ann Arbor Science, Ann Arbor, Michigan: 363–382.Google Scholar
  5. Black, G. F., 1988. Description of the Salton Sea sport fishery 1982– 1983. California Fish and Game Administrative Report 88–9.Google Scholar
  6. Boyd, C. E. & B. W. Green, 1998. Dry matter, ash, and elemental composition of pond-cultured tilapia (Oreochromis aureus and O. niloticus). J. World Aquacult. Soc. (in press).Google Scholar
  7. Brooks, J. L., 1969. Eutrophication and changes in the composition of the zooplankton. In Eutrophication: causes, consequences, correctives. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.: 236–255.Google Scholar
  8. Carlander, K. D., 1955. The standing crop of fish in lakes. J. Fish. res. Bd Can. 12: 543–570.Google Scholar
  9. Carpelan, L. H., 1961. Physical and chemical characteristics. In B. D. Walker (ed.), The Ecology of the Salton Sea. Calif. Fish Game, Fish Bull. 113: 17–32.Google Scholar
  10. Carpenter, S. R. & J. F. Kitchell (eds), 1993. The Trophic Cascade in Lakes.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 385 pp.Google Scholar
  11. Caraco, N., A. Tamse, O. Boutros & I. Valiela, 1987. Nutrient limitation of phytoplankton growth in brackish coastal ponds. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 44: 473–476.Google Scholar
  12. Caraco, N., F. J. J. Cole & G. E. Likens, 1989. Evidence of sulphate controlled phosphorus release from sediments of aquatic systems. Nature 341: 316–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clavero, V., A. Fernández & F. X. Niell, 1990. Influence of salinity on the concentration and rate of interchange of dissolved phosphate between water and sediment in Fuente Piedra lagoon (S. Spain). Hydrobiologia 197: 91–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clavero, V., M. García, J. A. Fernández & F. X. Niell, 1993. Adsorption-desorption of phosphate and its availability in the sediment of a saline lake (Fuente de Piedra, southern Spain). Int. J. Salt Lake Res. 2: 153–163.Google Scholar
  15. Conley, D. J., S. S. Kilham & E. Theriot, 1989. Differences in silica content between marine and freshwater diatoms. Limnol. Oceanogr. 34: 205–213.Google Scholar
  16. Culkin, F. & R. A. Cox, 1966. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and strontium in the sea water. Deep Sea Res. 13: 789–804.Google Scholar
  17. de Moor, F. C., R. C. Wilkinson & H. M. Herbst, 1986. Food and feeding habits of Oreochromis mossambicus (Peters) in hypertrophic Hartbeestpoort Dam, South Africa. S. Afr. J. Zool. 21: 170–176.Google Scholar
  18. Downing, J. A. & E. McCauley, 1992. The nitrogen: phosphorus relationship in lakes. Limnol. Oceanogr. 37: 936–945.Google Scholar
  19. Egge, J. K. & D. L. Aksnes, 1992. Silicate as regulating nutrient in phytoplankton competition. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 83: 281–289.Google Scholar
  20. Galat, D. L. & R. Robinson, 1983. Predicted effects of increasing salinity on the crustacean zooplankton community of Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Hydrobiologia 105: 115–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Galat, D. L., M. Coleman & R. Robinson, 1988. Experimental effects of elevated salinity on three benthic invertebrates in Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Hydrobiologia 158: 133–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gardner, W. S., S. P. Seitzinger & J. M. Malczyk, 1991. The effects of sea salts on the forms of nitrogen released from estuarine and freshwater sediments: Does ion pairing affect ammonium flux? Estuaries 14: 157–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Greenwald, G. M. & S. H. Hurlbert, 1993. Microcosm analysis of salinity effects on coastal lagoon plankton assemblages. Hydrobiologia 267: 307–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. González, M. R., C. M. Hart, E. P. Simpson, R. Lara & S. H. Hurlbert, 1998. Salinity and fish effects on Salton Sea microecosystems: Phytoplankton and periphyton (in preparation).Google Scholar
  25. Hammer, U. T., 1981. Primary production in saline lakes. A review. Hydrobiologia 81: 47–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hammer, U. T., 1986. Saline lake ecosystems of the world. Dr W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht, 616 pp.Google Scholar
  27. Hart, C. M., 1994. Salinity and fish effects on invertebrates of the Salton Sea: A microcosm experiment. M.S. Thesis, SDSU, San Diego, 102 pp.Google Scholar
  28. Hart, C., M. R. González, E. P. Simpson & S. H. Hurlbert, 1998. Salinity and fish effects on Salton Sea microecosystems: zooplankton and nekton. Hydrobiologia 381: 129–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hecky, R. E. & P. Kilham, 1988. Nutrient limitation of phytoplankton in freshwater and marine environments: a review of recent evidence on the effects of enrichment. Limnol. Oceanogr. 33: 796–822.Google Scholar
  30. Helsel, D. R. & R. M. Hirsch, 1992. Statistical Methods in Water Resources. Elsevier, New York, 522 pp.Google Scholar
  31. Howarth, R. W., R. Marino, J. J. Cole & J. Lane, 1988. Nitrogen fixation in freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems. 1. Rates and importance. Limnol. Oceanogr. 33:688–701.Google Scholar
  32. Hrbacek, J. M., V. Dvorkova, V. Korinek & L. Prochazkova, 1961. Demonstration of the effects of the fish stock on the species composition of the zooplankton and the intensity of the whole plankton association. Verh. int. Ver. Limnol. 14: 192–195.Google Scholar
  33. Hurd, D. C., 1983. Physical and chemical properties of siliceous skeletons. In S. R. Aston (ed.), Silicon Geochemistry and Biogeochemistry. Academic Press, London: 187–244.Google Scholar
  34. Hurlbert, S. H., J. Zedler & D. Fairbanks, 1972. Ecosystem alteration by mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) predation. Science 175: 639–641.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Hutchinson, G. E., 1957. A Treatise on Limnology, vol. I, Geography, Physics, and Chemistry. Wiley, New York, 1115 pp.Google Scholar
  36. Kitchell, J. F., J. F. Koonce & P. S. Tennis, 1975. Phosphorus flux through fishes. Verh. int. Ver. Limnol. 19: 2478–2484.Google Scholar
  37. Kitchell, J. F., S. R. Carpenter, J. G. Hodgson, X. He & P. A. Soranno, 1993.Phosphorus in food webs: compensatory responses in experimental lakes. Verh. int. Ver. Limnol. 25: 344–34.Google Scholar
  38. Lazzaro, X., 1987. A review of planktivorous fishes: their evolution, feeding behaviors, selectivities, and impacts. Hydrobiologia146: 97–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mazumder, A., W. D. Taylor, D. J. Mcqueen & D. R. S. Lean, 1989. Effects of fertilization and planktivorous fish on epilimnetic phosphorus and phosphorus sedimentation in large eclosures. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 46: 1735–1742.Google Scholar
  40. Maitipe, P. & S. S. De Silva, 1985. Switches between zoophagy, phytophagy and detritivory of Sarotherodon mossambicus (Peters) populations in twelve man-made Sri Lankan lakes. J. Fish. Biol. 26: 49–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Melack, J. M., P. Kilham & T. R. Fisher, 1982. Responses of phytoplankton to experimental fertilization with ammonium and phosphate in an African soda lake. Oecologia 52: 321–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McQueen, D. J., J. R. Post & E. L. Mills, 1986. Trophic relationships in freshwater pelagic ecosystems. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 43: 1571–1581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nakashima, B. S. & W. C. Leggett, 1980. The role of fishes in the regulation of phosphorus availability in lakes. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 37: 1540–1549.Google Scholar
  44. Northcote, T. G.,1988. Fish in the structure and function of freshwater ecosystems: a ‘top-down’ view. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 45: 361–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. O.E.E.S., 1995. Salton Sea management project: draft evaluation of salinity and elevation management alternatives. Ogden Environmental and Energy Services, San Diego, California.Google Scholar
  46. Parsons (Parsons Water Resources, Inc.), 1986. Environmental Impact Report (EIR) Draft. Imperial Irrigation District Appendices A-I. California State Clearinghouse No. 86012903.Google Scholar
  47. Por, F. D., 1980. A classification of hypersaline waters, based on trophic criteria. Mar. Ecol. 1: 121–131.Google Scholar
  48. Post, J. R. & D. J. Mcqueen, 1987. The impact of planktivorous fish on the structure of a plankton community. Freshwat. Biol. 17: 79–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schroeder, R. A., M. Rivera et al., 1993. Physical, chemical, and biological data for detailed study of irrigation drainage in the Salton Sea area, California, 1988–90. U.S. Geol. Survey Open-File Report 93–83.Google Scholar
  50. Seitsinger, S. P., W. S. Gardner & A. K. Spratt, 1991. The effect of salinity on ammonium sorption in aquatic sediments: Implications for benthic nutrient recycling. Estuaries 14: 167–174.Google Scholar
  51. Setmire, J. G., J. C. Wolfe & A. K. Stroud, 1990. Reconnaissance investigation of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Salton Sea area, California, 1986–87. U.S. Geol. Surv. Water-Resources Investigations Report 89–4102, 68 pp.Google Scholar
  52. Shapiro, J. & D. I. Wright, 1984. Lake restoration by biomanipulation: Round Lake, Minnesota, the first two years. Freshwat. Biol. 14: 371–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sherwood, J. E.,F. Stagnitti, M. J. Kokkinn & W. D. Williams, 1992. A standard table for predicting equilibrium dissolved oxygen concentrations in salt lakes dominated by sodium chloride. Int. J. Salt Lake Res. 1: 1–6.Google Scholar
  54. Simpson, E. P., 1994. Salinity and fish effects on the Salton Sea benthos. MS Thesis. San Diego State University, San Diego, California, 116 pp.Google Scholar
  55. Simpson, P. & M. R. González, C. Hart & S. H. Hurlbert, 1998. Salinity and fish effects on Salton Sea microecosystems: benthos. Hydrobiologia 381: 153–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Simpson, P. & S. H. Hurlbert, 1998. Salinity effects on the growth, mortality and shell strength of Balanus amphitrite from the Salton Sea, California. Hydrobiologia 381: 179–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sommer, U., 1988. Growth and survival strategies of planktonic diatoms. In C. D. Sandgren (ed.), Growth and Reproductive Strategies of Freshwater Phytoplankton. Cambridge, New York: 227–260.Google Scholar
  58. Soto, D. & S. H. Hurlbert, 1991. Long-term experiments on calanoid-cyclopoid interactions. Ecol. Monogr. 61: 245–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Spencer, S. R., 1983. Marine biogeochemistry of silicon. In S. R. Ashton (ed.), Silicon Geochemistry and Geochemistry. Academic Press, New York: 101–142.Google Scholar
  60. Stephens, D. W. & D. M. Guillespie, 1976. Phytoplankton production in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, and a laboratory study response to enrichment. Limnol. Oceanogr. 21: 74–87.Google Scholar
  61. Threlkeld, S. T., 1988. Planktivory and planktivore biomass effects on zooplankton, phytoplankton, and the trophic cascade. Limnol. Oceanogr. 33: 1362–1375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tominaga, H., N. Tominaga & W. D. Williams, 1987. Concentration of some inorganic Plant Nutrients in saline lakes on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia. Aust. J. mar. freshwat. Res. 38: 301–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. U.S.D.I., 1970. Salton Sea California: water quality and ecological management considerations. U.S. Dept. Interior, Federal Water Quality Administration, Pacific Southwest Region, 53 pp.Google Scholar
  64. Walker, B.W. (ed.), 1961. The Ecology of the Salton Sea, California in Relation to the Sport Fishery. Calif. Fish and Game Bull. 113: 1–204.Google Scholar
  65. Weiderholm, 1980. Effects of dilution on the benthos of an alkaline lake. Hydrobiologia 68: 199–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wurtsbaugh, W. A., 1992. Food-web modification by an invertebrate predator in the Great Salt Lake (USA). Oecologia 89: 168–175.Google Scholar
  67. Wurtsbaugh, W. A. & T. S. Berry, 1990. Cascading effects of decreased salinity on the plankton, chemistry, and physics of the Great Salt Lake (Utah). Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 47: 100–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria R. González
    • 1
  • Cheryl M. Hart
    • 2
  • Joseph R. Verfaillie
    • 2
  • Stuart H. Hurlbert
    • 2
  1. 1.Departamento de EcologíaCentro de Investigaciones Científicas y de Educación Superior, EnsenadaBaja CaliforniaMéxico
  2. 2.Department of BiologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoU.S.A

Personalised recommendations