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Eutrophication may be dened as the inorganic

nutrient enrichment of natural waters, leading to an
increased production of algae and macrophytes. Many
lakes are naturally eutrophic, and in some cases there
is a progressive eutrophication as the lake matures
(Section 3.7.3). The term eutro- phication is more
widely known in relation to human activities, where
the articial introduction of plant nutrients
(particularly phosphorus and nitrogen) has lead to
community changes and a deterioration of water
quality in many freshwater systems. This aspect has
become increasingly important with increases in
human population and more extensive development of
agriculture, and eutrophication now ranks with other
major anthropogenic effects such as deforestation,
global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, and
large-scale environmental disturbance in rela- tion to
its potentially harmful effect on natural ecosystems. In
terms of aquatic microbiology, eutrophication results
in changes in the biomass and taxonomic composition
of all groups of microorganisms present in freshwater
This ASSIGNMENT is about the origins of
eutrophica- tion, the algal response to increased
nutrient levels, and measures that can be taken to
control the growth of deleterious microbial

populations. These issues are discussed particularly in

relation to standing waters (lentic systems) where high
nutrient levels can lead to the development of intense
algal blooms and the resulting environmental
deterioration. Eutrophication of rivers and streams is
also an important aspect of freshwater microbiology,
but environmental effects are generally less acute than
in lentic systems
Lakes and reservoirs are generally less effective at
diluting pollutants than streams are, for two reasons.
First, deep lakes and reservoirs often contain stratified
layers (Figure 7-30, p. 147) that undergo little vertical
mixing. Second, they have little or no flow. The
flushing and changing of water in lakes and large
artificial reservoirs can take from 1 to 100 years,
compared with several days to several weeks for
streams. As a result, lakes and reservoirs are more
vulnerable than streams are to contamination by runoff
or discharge of plant nutrients, oil, pesticides, and nondegradable toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and
arsenic. Many toxic chemicals and acids also enter
lakes and reservoirs from the atmosphere
The origin of Eutrophication can be natural as well as
result of human activities i.e. artificially

Natural eutrophication
Nutrient status of freshwater environments: from
oligotrophic to eutrophic systems
Variations in nutrient level affect the natural ecology
of aquatic systems. The three inorganic nutrients of
major importance in freshwater systems are nitrates,
phosphates, and silicates. High concentrations of these
nutrients in lake water promote the active growth of
phytoplankton, leading to the massive development of
algal biomass (high primary productivity) and the
resulting growth (high secondary productivity) of all
other lake organisms including bacteria, zooplankton, and sh. The twin aspects of nutrient
concentration and productivity have been used to
provide a trophic classication of lakes in temperate
climates. Two major categories can be recognized:
eutrophic lakes high concentrations of nitrates and
phosphates, high primary and secondary productivity,
oligotrophic lakes low concentrations of either
nitrates or phosphates (or both), low primary and
secondary productivity.
These two major categories are part of a continuum in
terms of water quality, and it is convenient to
recognize ve main groups hypertrophic, eutrophic,

mesotrophic, oligotrophic, and ultra-oligotrophic in

descending order of enrichment and productivity.
Attempts have been made to dene these terms in
relation to xed boundary values for both nutrient
and productivity water-quality parameters. One
particular scheme, developed by the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),
provides specic criteria for temperate lakes in terms
of the mean annual values of total phosphorus,
chlorophyll-a, and Secchi depth
Although this scheme provides a useful concep- tual
framework for dening trophic categories, there are
limitations in its practical use for classifying particular
lakes. Because of variability within eco- systems,
some water bodies can be classied in one or another
trophic category, depending on which parameter is
used. In an attempt to alleviate this, a more exible
open boundary system has been developed (OECD,
1982), where the status of indi- vidual water bodies is
determined by statistical t to more open ranges of the
above parameters. The connection between nutrient
status and algal productivity implied in this system is
not absolute. Lake Baikal (Russia), for example, is
ultra- oligotrophic in terms of physicochemical
character- istics but is close to mesotrophic on the
basis of primary production and the high productivity
of subsequent heterotrophic levels (Mazepova, 1998).
In other cases, lakes of high nutrient levels have

limited productivity due to conditions of high acidity

(acidotrophic lakes), high content of brown humic
acids, or high turbidity all of which may severely
limit algal growth. Climatic differences also bring
limitations to the classication system.
Determinant of nutrient status location and
Location has an important inuence on the nutrient
status and productivity of lakes in relation to local
geological conditions (e.g., phosphate content of their
substrata), nature of the catchment area (parti- cularly
soil nutrient content), and internal hydro- logical
characteristics (degree of mixing, water retention
time). Many oligotrophic lakes occur in mountainous
areas, with a distinctive morphology (typically deep
lakes) and with an infertile, undis- turbed catchment
area. In contrast to this, eutrophic lakes are typically
shallow lowland water bodies, surrounded by a fertile
(often cultivated) catchment.
The high nutrient status of lowland lakes is closely
tied to human occupation of lowland areas,
with the resulting development and enrichment of
agricultural land and the disposal of nutrient, rich
human effluent into the freshwater systems. Such
differences between mountain lakes and those in

cultivated lowlands were noted at an early stage in the

development of limnology by Naumann (1919)
Artificial eutrophication: the impact of human
Human activities have been a major cause of eutrophication of freshwater systems (Mason, 2002), either
by direct discharge of contaminating nutrients into the
aquatic system or indirectly, by such pro- cesses as
deforestation or alteration of drainage patterns. Direct
contamination of water sources involves three main
types of pollutant domestic discharges (particularly
sewage), industrial efuent, and agricultural waste.
The sources of nutrient entry into the freshwater
system are of two main types as follows.
Point source: where inow into the lake or stream is
localized. This is typical of sewage and industrial
efuent, and is also characteristic of some types of
agricultural pollution.
Following are some of the point sources

Wastewater effluent (municipal and industrial)

Runoff and leachate from waste disposal systems
Runoff and infiltration from animal feedlots
Runoff from mines, oil fields, unsewered industrial sites
Overflows of combined storm and sanitary sewers
Runoff from construction sites less than 20,000 m (220,000 ft)
Untreated sewage

Diffuse source: where entry of organic pollutants

occurs over a wide area and includes agricultural
seepage, runoff from road systems, and aerial
Following are some of the diffuse sources

Runoff from agriculture/irrigation

Runoff from pasture and range
Urban runoff from unsewered areas
Septic tank leachate
Runoff from construction sites >20,000 m
Runoff from abandoned mines
Atmospheric deposition over a water surface
Other land activities generating contaminants

Eutrophication of rivers and streams

The environmental effects of high nutrient levels are
generally less acute in lotic compared with lentic
systems. The main reason for this is water ow, which
causes continuous displacement of suspended material
(low retention time) and prevents the build- up of
planktonic biomass in any particular locality.
Turbulence and vertical circulation in streams and
rivers also prevent stratication, limiting algal growth
due to reduced overall light exposure during the
circulation cycle and also due to the shading effects of
suspended particulate matter. Vertical circulation in
lotic systems also prevents the extremes of water
column microenvironment (sur- face O2
supersaturation, anaerobic hypolimnion) which

frequently develop in eutrophic lakes (Figure 5.9). In

spite of these growth limitations, algal blooms (with
resulting environmental problems) may develop in
some rivers.

Increased biomass of phytoplankton

Toxic or inedible phytoplankton species
Increases in blooms of gelatinous zooplankton
Increased biomass of benthic and epiphytic algae
Changes in macrophyte species composition and biomass
Decreases in water transparency (increased turbidity)
Colour, smell, and water treatment problems
Dissolved oxygen depletion
Increased incidences of fish kills
Loss of desirable fish species
Reductions in harvestable fish and shellfish
Decreases in perceived aesthetic value of the water body


Algal blooms and eutrophication
Algal blooms are simply dense populations of
planktonic algae which develop in aquatic systems.
They may occur in a wide range of environments,
including lakes and rivers, exposed mudats, and
snowpacks and are part of the normal seasonal
development in many ecosystems. In all of these
environments, the development of algal blooms can be

seen as a balance between the processes of population

increase (high growth rate, ability to out-compete
other algae) and population loss (effects of grazing,
parasitic attack). Increased levels of inor- ganic
nutrients lead to a general increase in primary
productivity (see previously) but may also promote
algal blooms at different times of the year. In lentic
environments, these blooms include the spring diatom bloom, late-spring blooms of green algae, and
summer blooms of dinoagellates and blue-green
algae (Figure 3.14). Most of these blooms have no
adverse effects on the environment, and the increased
algal biomass is transferred to other lake biota via the
normal food web (Figure 10.1).
The major problems of eutrophication come with
anthropogenic enrichment of the environment and the
formation of dense blooms of toxic dinoagel- lates
(principally marine) and colonial blue-green algae
Toxic dinoagellates.
These organisms are parti- cularly characteristic of
marine waters. They do occur in estuaries, however,
and are occasionally seen in major rivers associated
with estuaries so do have some peripheral relevance
to freshwater systems. Some of these dinoagellates
are important in the formation of neurotoxins, and are
potential hazards in terms of human water contact and

food consump- tion (Silbergeld et al., 2000). Toxic

dinoagel- lates include Gambierdiscus toxicus (CTX
toxin), Gonyaulax Alexandrinum (STX),
Gymnodinium breve (brevetoxins), Diophysis spp.
(Okadaic acid), and Pesteria piscicida (unknown
Colonial blue-green algae.
Colonial blue- greens, not dinoagellates, form the
major nui- sance-algae of freshwater systems and have
the potential to cause deterioration in water quality and
adverse environmental effects. In many eutrophic
environments (e.g., Rostherne Mere, UK; Figure 10.5)
and mesotrophic lakes of lesser magnitude, quite dense
blue-green blooms occur on an annual basis without
any permanent
environmental effects. It is only when these algae form
very dense accumulations and totally out-compete
other algae that their inuence becomes severe.
General requirements for bloom formation
These algae tend to become a prominent feature of
north- ern temperate lakes in midsummer, when their
dominance increases and bloom formation
occurs.Although the effects of blue-green blooms are
often prolonged, their origin may appear to be rapid
with the sudden appearance of dense surface scums in

eutrophic lakes and reservoirs (Figure 10.5). The

origin of these blooms is partly due to massive growth
(population increase) but also the ability to oat to the
water surface and form dense localized populations.
The conditions necessary for the sud- den
development of surface blooms are summarized in
The ability of blue-green algae to out-compete other
members of the phytoplankton at a time of year when
certain environmental aspects (light, temperature) are
at an optimum, is a key feature of the success of these
organisms in bloom formation.
Following are some of the major points due to which
blue green algae compete other algae
Optimum growth at high temperature
Tolerance of low-light conditions
Ability for growth at low Nitrogen/Phosphorous ratios
Depth regulation by buoyancy
Resistance to zooplankton feeding
Tolerance of high pH and low CO2 concentrations
Environmental effects of blue-green blooms
Very high levels of algal biomass lead to extreme
limitation of light penetration, preventing growth of
other algae and completely suppressing growth of

higher plants. Growth inhibition of other algae results

in a dramatic loss of phytoplankton diversity within
the water column. Oxygenation in the water column
also reaches new extremes. Active photosynthesis at
the water surface leads to high oxygen concentrations
(often supersaturated) and high pH (frequently
>pH10). In the lower part of the water column, higher
levels of algal detritus and heterotrophic decomposition result in extreme reducing conditions, with
oxygen concentrations very low or non-detectable
throughout most of the hypolimnion. These redu- cing
conditions permit the accumulation of substan- tial
levels of ammonia and nitrite in the water column, and
lead to greater release of phosphate from the lake
sediments adding to the already existing
eutrophication problems
Specific effects on water quality
In addition to these rather general environmental
effects, blooms of blue-green algae also cause more
specic problems in relation to water quality and
human use of the water body:
1.Production of high concentrations of small molecular weight toxins which are poisonous to a wide
range of animals these are discussed more fully in
Section 10.7.3.
2.Fish kills: towards the end of an algal bloom, acute
anoxia may develop throughout most of the water

column due to large-scale death of the algal cells,

resulting in a decrease in oxygen evolution by
photosynthesis and an increase in oxygen
uptake by heterotrophic bacteria metabolizing the algal
breakdown products. Under these sud- den and
extreme conditions of oxygen depletion, massive loss
of sh populations may occur, with long-term effects
on the ecology of the freshwater environment.
3.Problems with water extraction and treatment
for domestic use: the ltration systems of watertreatment works can become blocked with algae,
affecting the efciency and maintenance costs of the
extraction process. Mucopolysacchar- ides produced
by algal breakdown can chelate the iron or aluminium
coagulants added to the water during the treatment
process, leading to an increase in the metal complexes
entering the water supply. The presence of algae can
also lead to unpleasant changes in the odour and taste
of the water. Final problems come with the collapse of
the bloom, which may lead to the accumulation of
ammonia affecting the oxida- tion and disinfection
capacity of chlorine and converting iron and
manganese to soluble forms that can lead to
discoloration of water.
4.Impacts on agriculture and sheries: blue-green
blooms can have adverse effects on agriculture
through damage to livestock (toxin consumption), with
an increased risk of ooding to farmland. In the case

of sh farming, blue-green blooms can cause changes

in sh species composition, and result in sh kills (see
5.Loss of recreation amenity: development of
intense algal blooms frequently leads to a ban on
human access for swimming, sailing, and other
recreational activities
Production of toxins
In the freshwater environment, toxins are produced
and secreted in quantity by one major group of algae
the blue-greens (Carmichael, 1994). These toxins are
part of a wide range of bioactive second- ary
metabolites produced by these organisms, including
polyketones, alkaloids, and peptides. Toxins reach
particularly high concentrations under conditions of
bloom formation, when they contaminate the water
supplies of wild and domestic animals and can also
harm humans. Toxin production by other algae may
occur in some situations. Toxic populations of the
eukaryote alga Prymnesium parvum
(Prymnesiophyceae), for example, may develop in the
brackish waters of tidal or coastal freshwater systems
causing dramatic changes in sh communities
(Skovgaard and Hansen, 2003). In the marine
environment, toxin production by dinoagellates
assumes greatest signicance contaminating sea

water, but also causing shellsh to become poisonous

due to ingestion and bioconcentration by these
Major catageories of toxins include
Neurotoxins including anatoxin a,anatoxin(s) and
Hepatxins including microcystins and nodularians