Does differential phosphorus processing by plankton influence the ecological state of shallow lakes?

Sci Total Environ. 2021 May 15;769:144357. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144357. Epub 2020 Dec 28.


Shallow lakes have a tendency to settle into turbid or clear-water states, the latter having lower concentrations of total phosphorus (TP). However, how P-cycling is affected by and perhaps contributes to maintaining the different states is not well understood, in part because quantifying the processes involved by traditional methods is difficult. To elucidate these processes, we conducted experiments using 32P-PO4 as a tracer on samples collected from the unrestored, unvegetated sections of Huizhou West Lake where turbid water prevails as well as the restored, clear-water, macrophyte-rich waters of the lake. We measured PO4 uptake rates, 32P-PO4 accumulation by various plankton size-fractions (picoplankton (0.2-2 μm), nanoplankton (2-20 μm) and microplankton (>20 μm)) as well as release rates of 32P-PO4 by labelled plankton. Our results revealed slow PO4 uptake in the turbid state due to low PO4 concentration, slow recycling of the high particulate P, and high levels of particulate 32P which may allow for continuous high growth and biomass of phytoplankton. In contrast, in the clear water state, the uptake of PO4 was rapid due to a higher PO4 concentration, the recycling rates of particulate 32P were high and the levels of particulate 32P were low, potentially constraining the phytoplankton growth. A greater proportion of particulate 32P was in the microplankton fraction in clear waters, suggesting that grazing by microplankton may play an important role in the rapid P recycling in clear-waters. Our results provide some evidence for a reinforcement of the turbid conditions (low recycling rate) when the lake is in a turbid state and vice versa when in the clear water state. The results add new knowledge to the understanding of P cycling in shallow lakes and illustrate the utility of using P-kinetics in contrasting states in plankton communities.

Keywords: Alternative state; Particulate P level; Phosphorus; Plankton; Recycling; Shallow lake; Uptake.

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Eutrophication
  • Lakes*
  • Phosphorus
  • Phytoplankton
  • Plankton*


  • Phosphorus