Sediment phosphorus release sustains nuisance periphyton growth when nitrogen is not limiting

Sediment phosphorus sustains nuisance periphyton


  • Bradley J. Austin | Arkansas Water Resources Center, Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, United States.
  • Violet Eagle Earth and Atmospheric Science, Metropolitan State University of Denver, United States.
  • Michelle A. Evans-White Department of Biological Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, United States.
  • J. Thad Scott Department of Biology, Baylor University, Waco, United States.
  • Brian E. Haggard Arkansas Water Resources Center, Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, United States.


Nuisance periphyton growth influences the aesthetics, recreation, and aquatic life of waterbodies. Partners Lake is a shallow spring-fed lake in the headwaters of the Illinois River Watershed in Cave Springs, Arkansas, that experiences nuisance growth of periphyton (i.e., Spirogyra spp.) each year. The ratio of dissolved nitrogen (N ~5.0 mg L-1) and phosphorus (P ~0.030 mg L-1) in the lake water (N:P≥288), as well as nutrient limitation assays, suggests that periphyton growth should be P-limited. While the water column lacks sufficient P to promote growth, the sediments have the ability to release P to the overlying water; P-flux ranged from 1.63 mg m-2 d-1 to over 10 mg m-2 d-1, reaching final concentrations of 0.08 to 0.34 mg L-1. However, soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations were consistently at or below 0.030 mg L-1, in the lake, suggesting that the periphyton were likely immobilizing P as quickly as it was released from the sediments. In the lab, maximal periphyton growth (~30 to 35 mg m-2) occurred in the 0.10 to 0.25 mg L-1 P treatments, over a 6 day incubation period. Similar levels of growth occurred when lake sediments were the P source, suggesting P released from the sediments is sufficient to support nuisance algal growth. We need to begin managing the legacy P stored in the sediments, in addition to external P loads, because internal P can sustain nuisance periphyton biomass when N is not limiting.



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Original Articles
Edited by
Irina Izaguirre, Departamento de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sediment P-flux, Nutrient limitation, Nuisance periphyton growth
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How to Cite
Austin BJ, Eagle V, Evans-White MA, Scott JT, Haggard BE. Sediment phosphorus release sustains nuisance periphyton growth when nitrogen is not limiting: Sediment phosphorus sustains nuisance periphyton. J Limnol [Internet]. 2020 Apr. 3 [cited 2021 Sep. 24];79(3). Available from: