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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 497:51-67 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10602

Phytoplankton assemblage changes during decadal decreases in nitrogen loadings to the urbanized Long Island Sound estuary, USA

Elizabeth A. Suter1,*, Kamazima M. M. Lwiza1, Julie M. Rose2, Christopher Gobler1, Gordon T. Taylor

1School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5000, USA
2NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Milford Laboratory, Milford, Connecticut 06460, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Despite reductions in nitrogen loadings from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) discharging into Long Island Sound (LIS) over the last 15 yr, eutrophication and hypoxia remain a severe problem. Here we used time series of hydrography, meteorology, nutrients, and phytoplankton pigments to explore the relationships between planktonic biomass, nutrient stocks, and physical regimes in LIS. With the exception of the most eutrophied station in the west, dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) decreased between 1995 and 2009, likely resulting from WWTP upgrades. However, total dissolved nitrogen increased during this period, primarily driven by rising organic nitrogen pools. Simultaneous increases in inorganic phosphorus, silicate, and chlorophyll a (chl a) were also observed. Starting in 2002, pigment-based phytoplankton community composition revealed systematic declines in diatom abundances coincident with increases in dinoflagellates and other flagellated phytoplankton groups. Despite this, bottom water dissolved oxygen concentrations did not improve. The apparent paradox between increasing DIN limitation and escalating chl a concentrations in LIS suggests a shifting nutrient stoichiometry and an altered phytoplankton community in which phytoflagellates have increased in abundance relative to diatoms. Despite these changes, diatoms remained the most abundant algal group by the end of the study. In addition, a shift in chl a stocks in the year 2000 coincided with decreases in temperature, increases in salinity, and the proliferation of several algal groups. These results reveal the complex nature of eutrophied estuaries and indicate that policies targeting only inorganic nitrogen loadings may be insufficient to mitigate eutrophication in systems such as LIS.


KEY WORDS: Nitrogen limitation · Nutrients · Eutrophication · Phytoplankton · Nutrient ratio · Hypoxia


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Cite this article as: Suter EA, Lwiza KMM, Rose JM, Gobler C, Taylor GT (2014) Phytoplankton assemblage changes during decadal decreases in nitrogen loadings to the urbanized Long Island Sound estuary, USA. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 497:51-67. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10602

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