Nutrient and Algal Responses to Winterkilled Fish-derived Nutrient Subsidies in Eutrophic Lakes

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Fishes inhabiting shallow, glacial lakes of the Prairie Pothole Region in the United States and Canada periodically experience hypoxia in severe winters that can lead to extensive fish mortality resulting in high biomasses of dead fish. However, the role of carcass-derived nutrient subsidies in shallow, eutrophic lakes translocated to pelagic primary producers is not well documented. This study quantified the influence of winterkill events on nutrient contributions from decaying fish carcasses of common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and the phytoplankton response among pre- and postwinterkill years and compared seasonal patterns of nutrient limitation and phytoplankton community composition between winterkill and nonwinterkill lakes. We found that fish carcasses contributed an estimated 2.5–4.3 kg/ha of total (Kjeldahl) nitrogen (N) and 0.3–0.5 kg/ha of total phosphorus (P) to lakes that experienced winterkill conditions. Nutrient bioassays showed that winterkill lakes were primarily N limited, congruent with the low N:P ratios produced by fish carcasses corrected for the disproportionate release of N and P (8.6). Nutrient subsidies translocated from decomposed fish to pelagic primary producers seemed to have little immediate influence on the seasonal phytoplankton community composition, but total N and subsequent chlorophyll-a increased the year following the winterkill event. Cyanobacteria density varied seasonally but was higher in winterkill lakes, presumably due to the integration of nutrients released from fish decomposition. This study provides evidence that large inputs of autochthonous fish-derived nutrients contribute to nutrient availability within winterkilled systems and increase the maximum attainable biomass of the phytoplankton community.

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Lake and Reservoir Management





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Taylor & Francis