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Seasonal and interannual variation in lower Columbia River phytoplankton (2005-2018): Environmental variability and a decline in large bloom-forming diatoms

Vanessa Rose*, Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, Stephen M. Bollens, Julie Zimmerman

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding the influence of biotic and abiotic factors on riverine phytoplankton dynamics is challenging, particularly as anthropogenic stressors such as eutrophication, invasive species, and climate change alter these relationships. We examined a 14-year (January 2005 – December 2018) dataset of phytoplankton and water quality variables, along with zooplankton and nutrient concentrations, from the Columbia River, the largest river in the United States Pacific Northwest (PNW), to identify seasonal and interannual patterns of phytoplankton assemblage structure and their environmental associations. Non-metric multidimensional scaling, cluster and indicator species analyses revealed: i) a diatom/flagellate cluster in spring/summer, associated with chlorophyll a, discharge, ciliates and Sarcodina, ii) a cyanobacteria/chlorophyte cluster in late summer/early fall, associated with higher water temperatures, increased clarity, the invasive copepod Pseudodiaptomus forbesi, and veligers of the invasive Asian clam Corbicula fluminea, and iii) a mixed-taxa winter cluster of minimal abundance and biomass. Nutrients were not strongly associated with the observed structural patterns. Phytoplankton bloom duration varied interannually, between years with short springtime blooms vs. years when blooms extended across multiple months. Springtime blooms of the diatom Asterionella formosa decreased in recent years, giving way to blooms of a mixed diatom assemblage. Further, high temperature, low discharge, and more invasive zooplankton were associated with cyanobacterial blooms, suggesting that increased temperature and reduced river flows predicted due to climate change in the PNW may lead to further impacts on the late summer/early fall Columbia River plankton community.