The effects of temperature and nutrients on the growth and dynamics of toxic and non-toxic strains of Microcystis during cyanobacteria blooms
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In temperate latitudes, toxic cyanobacteria blooms often occur in eutrophied ecosystems during warm months. Many common bloom-forming cyanobacteria have toxic and non-toxic strains which co-occur and are visually indistinguishable but can be quantified molecularly. Toxic Microcystis cells possess a suite of microcystin synthesis genes (mcyA-mcyJ), while non-toxic strains do not. For this study, we assessed the temporal dynamics of toxic and non-toxic strains of Microcystis by quantifying the microcystin synthetase gene (mcyD) and the small subunit ribosomal RNA gene, 16S (an indicator of total Microcystis), from samples collected from four lakes across the Northeast US over a two-year period. Nutrient concentrations and water quality were measured and experiments were conducted which examined the effects of elevated levels of temperatures (+4 degrees C), nitrogen, and phosphorus on the growth rates of toxic and non-toxic strains of Microcystis. During the study, toxic Microcystis cells comprised between 12% and 100% of the total Microcystis population in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, and between 0.01% and 6% in three other systems. In all lakes, molecular quantification of toxic (mcyD-possessing) Microcystis was a better predictor of in situ microcystin levels than total cyanobacteria, total Microcystis, chlorophyll a, or other factors, being significantly correlated with the toxin in every lake studied. Experimentally enhanced temperatures yielded significantly increased growth rates of toxic Microcystis in 83% of experiments conducted, but did so for non-toxic Microcystis in only 33% of experiments, suggesting that elevated temperatures yield more toxic Microcystis cells and/or cells with more mcyD copies per cell, with either scenario potentially yielding more toxic blooms. Furthermore, concurrent increases in temperature and P concentrations yielded the highest growth rates of toxic Microcystis cells in most experiments suggesting that future eutrophication and climatic warming may additively promote the growth of toxic, rather than non-toxic, populations of Microcystis, leading to blooms with higher microcystin content.