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Sam Kurth
Bio 220W
The Effects of Excess Phosphorous on the Growth of Lemna minor
The effects of industrial agricultural practices on the surrounding environment can be
varied and often quite substantial. Monitoring how modern agricultural and industrial
practices can alter the states of ecosystems has long been an important area of ecological and
environmental research. Often it is the case that industry and large farms negatively impact
the surrounding environment. It is understood that one effect these types of constructs have
on their neighboring ecosystems is to damage them by way of pollutants. Modern farms
often use large quantities of fertilizers, which then find their way into streams, lakes, and
soils of adjacent areas. These fertilizers contain large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorous,
which frequently contaminate nearby bodies of water and cause environmental damage
(Murray, 2004). These elements can cause the eutrophication of bodies of water, leading to
the deaths of fish species and other organisms (Bennett et. al., 2001).
Of particular interest to many researchers, farmers, and citizens is how to repair
damaged environments cheaply and effectively. Phytoremediation is one method of healing
ailing environments. Phytoremediation is the use of plants to repair environments damaged
by pollution by helping to reduce levels of pollutants. There are several mechanisms of action
through which plants can remove contaminants: phytoextraction, wherein plants accumulate
the contaminants in their tissues and are removed, rhizofiltration, in which plant root
systems filter and trap pollutants from bodies of water, and phytostabilization uses plants to
reduce the bioavailability of contaminants (Salt et. al., 1995). Other mechanisms have been
identified as well.

The plant Lemna minor is an aquatic plant that has been identified as a possible
candidate for rhizofiltration in fresh water habitats. Some studies have shown L. minor to be
effective at removing lead and other heavy metal contaminants in freshwater through
rhizofiltration, reducing concentrations by up to 76% (Axtell et. al., 2003).
The purpose of this experiment was to monitor the growth of a population of L. minor
in conditions that mimic those of fresh waters exposed to fertilizer run off. The hypothesis
of this experiment was that increased phosphorus concentrations would have an effect on
plant growth causing for faster growing populations. Sample populations were exposed to
excess phosphorous for a period of five weeks, and their growth pattern monitored. This was
compared to a control population in which nutrient quantities were made to simulate that of
an average, healthy lake in Pennsylvania.
This experiment was done in tandem with other experiments observing population
growth dynamics in L. minor and Salvinia minima under various conditions. Both were subject
to increased phosphorus concentrations. Others tested to see the effects of increased nitrogen,
and a third experiment studied the effects of competition between the two species. In this
experiment only L. minor was observed and only under phosphorus rich conditions.
Materials and Methods
Five initial populations of L. minor were founded; four contained 24 plants, and one
contained only 12. Plants were placed in 10 oz. containers filled to near full capacity with
artificial pond water. A phosphorus mixture was prepared by dissolving 100mg KH
in 1
liter of water. In 3 of the N=24 populations 2 ml of this phosphorus mixture was added.
Water levels were refilled 3 times per week with artificial pond water prepared by the Penn

Figure 1: Plot of P treated L. minor
and control populations over time.
A) As can be seen, control
populations (red) appear to
follow exponential growth
patterns. Phosphorus treated
populations (blue) seem to
follow exponential growth,
with a plateau from weeks 3-
4 and K = 160.
B) Log Transformation of
Change in N over t for
phosphorus treated
State Biology Department, 2 ml of phosphorus mixture was added once per week(Haas,
2014). Population growth was monitored via the counting of leaves present total in each of
the four populations. Counts were made every week. One N=24 population and the N=12
population were left as controls. This process was performed over a 5 week period. Class data
was averaged and processed via Microsoft Excel. Carrying capacity was calculated by
determining the equation of the best fit line for the graphs of change of population growth
rate over population size, setting y=1 and solving for x.


Figure 2: The Growth patterns of L.
minor as seen in populations with an
initial N=12. A) Population growth over
time, appears to be exponential. This is
confirmed in B) where the graph is log
transformed. C) Change in growth rate
over time. Using the equation of the
best fit line in C) carrying capacity is
calculated to be 324.
Figure 3: The Growth patterns of L.
minor as seen in populations with an
initial N=24. A) Population growth
over time appears to be exponential.
This is confirmed in B) where the
graph is log transformed. C) Change
in growth rate over time. Using the
equation of the best fit line in C)
carrying capacity is calculated to be

Growth patterns between phosphorus treated populations and control populations
appear to have little difference. Both populations seem to have followed exponential growth
patterns over the observed period, confirmed by log transforming the growth curves. In
figure 1 the populations of phosphorus treated and control groups is observed. The only major
difference was a plateauing effect in the growth of phosphorus treated populations. Between
weeks 3 and 4 a precipitous decline in the rate of population growth was observed. One
possible explanation is that the proliferation of algae in the greenhouse during the
observation time interval hindered growth patterns. It is possible that this algae competed for
resources and thus lowered the absolute growth of the populations. Algae grew in both
control and phosphorus rich populations, but efforts were made to remove it after week four.
Figure 4: Comparison of Population
Size vs. Time in populations with
initial N=12 (blue) and N=24 (red)

This would explain why the growth resumed its exponential pattern after this point.
Otherwise there was little difference in the population growth dynamics, the control group
had an rmax = 1.27, and the phosphorus saturated population had an rmax= 1.22
There was also little difference in population change between the groups that initially
had 12 plants and the groups that initially had 24. Both show a very similar growth curve,
however it should be noted that the N=24 group appeared to have a slightly more steep curve.
In figures 2 and 3 we see the population(N) over time, the log transformations, and the
growth rate vs population size of both the initial N=12 and initial N=24 populations. By
comparing these we see that both experienced very similar exponential growth patterns with
rmax = 1.27 for N=24 and rmax= 1.53 for N=12. We can also use this information to calculate a
theoretical carrying capacity (K). Both populations appear to have overshot their calculated
K. This is in line with current models of population growth, in which the number of
individuals can influence the growth rate of the population.
Phosphorus contamination of freshwater is a serious concern. To understand how
high levels of contamination could affect the growth of phytoremediating plants is essential
to determine which plants would best be used to help clean it up. Overall the phosphorus
saturation level of this experiment did not seem high enough to greatly impact growth of L.
minor populations. Indeed the proliferation of algae seems to be a far stronger influence than
the concentration of phosphorus in this experiment. Initial starting population did seem to
have a slight effect on the rate of population growth. Populations with 24 initial individuals
experienced more rapid growth than a population with 12. The experiments performed by

others reinforce that phosphorus affected both L. minor and S. minima minimally. Nitrogen
was found to increase the growth rate of both plants, and when competing S. minima was a
better competitor than L. minor.


Axtell, N., Sternberg, S., & Claussen, K. (2003). Lead and nickel removal using
Microspora and Lemna minor. Bioresource Technology, 89(1), 41-48. doi: 10.1016/S0960-
Bennett, E. M., Carpenter, S. R., & Caraco, N. F. (2001). Human Impact on Erodable
Phosphorus and Eutrophication: A Global Perspective. BioScience, 51(3), 227. doi: 10.1641/0006-

Hass, C.A., D. Burpee, R. Meisel, and A. Ward. 2013. A Preliminary Study of the
Effects of Excess Nutrients and Interspecies Competition on Population Growth of Lemna
minor and Salvinia minima In A Laboratory Manual for Biology 220W: Populations and
Communities. (Burpee, D. and C. Hass, eds.) Department of Biology, The Pennsylvania
State University, University Park, PA.
Adapated from Beiswenger, J. M. 1993. Experiments To Teach Ecology. A Project of the
Education Committee of the Ecological Society of America. Ecological Society of America,
Tempe, AZ. pp. 83-105.

Hart, M. R., Quin, B. F., & Nguyen, M. L. (2004). Phosphorus Runoff from
Agricultural Land and Direct Fertilizer Effects. Journal of Environment Quality, 33(6), 1954. doi:

Salt, D. E., Blaylock, M., Kumar, N. P., Dushenkov, V., Ensley, B. D., Chet, I., &
Raskin, I. (1995). Phytoremediation: A Novel Strategy for the Removal of Toxic Metals from
the Environment Using Plants. Bio/Technology, 13(5), 468-474. doi: 10.1038/nbt0595-468