Algal dynamics in an African great lake, and their relation to hydrographic and meteorological conditions

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Bootsma, Harvey Allen
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Mechanisms controlling the productivity, abundançe and taxonomic composition of phytoplankton in tropical Lake Malawi were examined by monitoring phytoplankton dynamics in 8 regions covering the length of the lake (560 km) over a 10-12 month period, and relating these dynamics to spatio-temporal changes in thermal structure, nutrient availability, and meteorological conditions. In addition, nearshore benthic photosynthetic rates were measured in 7 different months.Spatial and temporal changes in areal photosynthetic rates were due almost entirely to changes in the efficiency of light utilization by the phyroplankton community. An evaluation of potential factors which might influence tight utilization indicates that nutrient availabitity is the most important. Most of the photosynthetic N and P demand is met by internal recycling within the upper 200 m, and therefore spatio-temporal variation of phytoplankton photosynthetic rate is closely related to changes in mixing regime. It is shown that the dominant meteorological factors responsible for changes in the mixing regime were solar radiation and windspeed. A comparison with previous photosynthesis data for Lake Malawi indicates that windspeed is a dominant factor controlling interannual variability. Shallow areas of the lake were more productive than deep areas, due to more intense upwelling and more efficient internal nutrient recycling in shallow waters. Within the littoral zone, benthic photosynthetic rates were very high, accounting for 14% to 28% of total net photosynthesis within the shallow southeast arm. Phytoplankton biomass was not correlated with photosynthetic rate, indicating that biomass loss processes were important in controlling biomass variability. Changes in phytoplankton taxonomic composition were related to changes in mixing regime. Cyanobacteria and chlorophytes were dominant throughout much of the study period, but diatoms made up a significant proportion of total biomass during periods of increased turbulence and nutrient availability. An analysis of phytoplankton surface area : volume ratios revealed that organism shape and size are important determinants in species succession. Previous studies have emphasized the low variability of phytoplankton biomass and photosynthetic rates in tropical lakes, relative to temperate lakes. An inter-lake comparison reveals that this tenet does not apply to large lakes. Fluctuations in the mixing regime of large tropical lakes have an effect on phytoplankton variability similar in magnitude to the effect of fluctuating solar irradiance in large temperate lakes.
phytoplankton dynamics, Lake Malawi, spatio-temporal changes, thermal structure, nutrient availability, meteorological conditions