Ecotoxicology and environmental safety

Environmental influence on cyanobacteria abundance and microcystin toxin production in a shallow temperate lake.

PMID 25060409


The increasing frequency of harmful cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater systems is a commonly recognized problem due to detrimental effects on water quality. Vancouver Lake, a shallow, tidally influenced lake in the flood plain of the Columbia River within the city of Vancouver, WA, USA, has experienced numerous summertime cyanobacterial blooms, dominated by Aphanizomenon sp. and Anabaena sp. Cyanobacteria abundance and toxin (microcystin) levels have been monitored in this popular urban lake for several years; however, no previous studies have identified which cyanobacteria species produce toxins, nor analyzed how changes in environmental variables contribute to the fluctuations in toxic cyanobacteria populations. We used a suite of molecular techniques to analyze water samples from Vancouver Lake over two summer bloom cycles (2009 and 2010). Both intracellular and extracellular microcystin concentrations were measured using an ELISA kit. Intracellular microcystin concentrations exceeded WHO guidelines for recreational waters several times throughout the sampling period. PCR results demonstrated that Microcystis sp. was the sole microcystin-producing cyanobacteria species present in Vancouver Lake, although Microcystis sp. was rarely detected in microscopical counts. qPCR results indicated that the majority of the Microcystis sp. population contained the toxin-producing gene (mcyE), although Microcystis sp. abundance rarely exceeded 1 percent of overall cyanobacteria abundance. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) revealed that PO4-P was the main environmental variable influencing the abundance of toxic and non-toxic cyanobacteria, as well as intracellular microcystin concentrations. Our study underscores the importance of using molecular genetic techniques, in addition to traditional microscopy, to assess the importance of less conspicuous species in the dynamics of harmful algal blooms.