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Variable climatic conditions dominate recent phytoplankton dynamics in Chesapeake Bay
Harding Jr., L.W. (2016). Variable climatic conditions dominate recent phytoplankton dynamics in Chesapeake Bay. NPG Scientific Reports 6(23773): 16 pp.
In: Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group). Nature Publishing Group: London. ISSN 2045-2322, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Phytoplankton; ANW, USA, Chesapeake Bay [Marine Regions]; Brackish water

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  • Harding Jr., L.W.

    Variable climatic conditions strongly influence phytoplankton dynamics in estuaries globally. Our study area is Chesapeake Bay, a highly productive ecosystem providing natural resources, transportation, and recreation for nearly 16 million people inhabiting a 165,000-km(2) watershed. Since World War II, nutrient over-enrichment has led to multiple ecosystem impairments caused by increased phytoplankton biomass as chlorophyll-a (chl-a). Doubled nitrogen (N) loadings from 1945-1980 led to increased chl-a, reduced water clarity, and low dissolved oxygen (DO), while decreased N loadings from 1981-2012 suggest modest improvement. The recent 30+ years are characterized by high inter-annual variability of chl-a, coinciding with irregular dry and wet periods, complicating the detection of long-term trends. Here, we synthesize time-series data for historical and recent N loadings (TN, NO2 + NO3), chl-a, floral composition, and net primary productivity (NPP) to distinguish secular changes caused by nutrient over-enrichment from spatio-temporal variability imposed by climatic conditions. Wet years showed higher chl-a, higher diatom abundance, and increased NPP, while dry years showed lower chl-a, lower diatom abundance, and decreased NPP. Our findings support a conceptual model wherein variable climatic conditions dominate recent phytoplankton dynamics against a backdrop of nutrient over-enrichment, emphasizing the need to separate these effects to gauge progress toward improving water quality in estuaries.

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