Bioavailable iron concentrations regulate phytoplankton growth and bloom formation in low-nutrient lakes

Journal Article
Fields of Research
The growth of phytoplankton in lakes is thought to be primarily controlled by macronutrient concentrations, but the availability of trace metal micronutrients, such as iron (Fe), are increasingly recognised as important regulators of lake primary production. This study evaluates the role of Fe in regulating phytoplankton growth in lakes of different nutrient status in New Zealand. The results of this unique year-long study, combining highly sensitive trace metal concentration analysis of waters and particulates with advanced trace metal bioavailability and speciation modelling, constrains thresholds for bioavailable Fe and colloidal Fe of 0.8 nmol·L¯¹and 30 nmol·L¯¹, respectively, below which phytoplankton growth-limitation occurs. These thresholds specifically control diatom bloom formation and termination in lakes, thereby exerting a strong influence on freshwater carbon sequestration, given the dominance of diatoms in lake bloom assemblages. Importantly, potentially toxic cyanobacteria thrived only after events of bottom water anoxia, when additional dissolved Fe in concentrations ≥4 nmol·L¯¹ was released into the water column. These new thresholds for bioavailable and colloidal Fe offer the potential to manage micronutrient levels in lakes for the purpose of regulating algal bloom formation and carbon sequestration, while at the same time, suppressing the formation of harmful cyanobacterial blooms.