Sediment phosphorus release sustains nuisance periphyton growth when nitrogen is not limiting

Sediment phosphorus sustains nuisance periphyton

  • Bradley J. Austin | Arkansas Water Resources Center, Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, United States.
  • Violet Eagle Earth and Atmospheric Science, Metropolitan State University of Denver, United States.
  • Michelle A. Evans-White Department of Biological Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, United States.
  • J. Thad Scott Department of Biology, Baylor University, Waco, United States.
  • Brian E. Haggard Arkansas Water Resources Center, Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, United States.


Nuisance periphyton growth influences the aesthetics, recreation, and aquatic life of waterbodies. Partners Lake is a shallow spring-fed lake in the headwaters of the Illinois River Watershed in Cave Springs, Arkansas, that experiences nuisance growth of periphyton (i.e., Spirogyra spp.) each year. The ratio of dissolved nitrogen (N ~5.0 mg L-1) and phosphorus (P ~0.030 mg L-1) in the lake water (N:P≥288), as well as nutrient limitation assays, suggests that periphyton growth should be P-limited. While the water column lacks sufficient P to promote growth, the sediments have the ability to release P to the overlying water; P-flux ranged from 1.63 mg m-2 d-1 to over 10 mg m-2 d-1, reaching final concentrations of 0.08 to 0.34 mg L-1. However, soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations were consistently at or below 0.030 mg L-1, in the lake, suggesting that the periphyton were likely immobilizing P as quickly as it was released from the sediments. In the lab, maximal periphyton growth (~30 to 35 mg m-2) occurred in the 0.10 to 0.25 mg L-1 P treatments, over a 6 day incubation period. Similar levels of growth occurred when lake sediments were the P source, suggesting P released from the sediments is sufficient to support nuisance algal growth. We need to begin managing the legacy P stored in the sediments, in addition to external P loads, because internal P can sustain nuisance periphyton biomass when N is not limiting.



PlumX Metrics


Download data is not yet available.


APHA 2014. Standard Methods for examination of water and wastewater. 22nd ed. American Public Health Association, Washington: 1360 pp.

Ashley K, Cordell D, Mavinic D, 2011. A brief history of phosphorus: from the philosopher’s stone to nutrient recovery and reuse. Chemosphere 84:737–746. DOI:

Baker BC, Wilson AE, Scott JT, 2018. Phytoplankton N2-fixation efficiency and its effect on harmful algal blooms. Freshw. Sci. 37:264–275. DOI:

Borchardt M, 1996. Nutrients. In: Stevenson RJ, M Bothwell, and RL Lowe (eds.), Algal Ecology. Freshwater Benthic Ecosystems, San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Brennan RB, Scott JT, Sharpley AN, Lally HT, Jarvie HP, Bowes MJ, Haggard BE, Gbur E, 2017. Linking Soil Erosion to Instream Dissolved Phosphorus Cycling and Periphyton Growth. J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 53:809–821. DOI:

DeSimone LA, Hamilton PA, 2009. Quality of Water from Domestic Wells in Principal Aquifers of the United States, 1991-2004. US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey. DOI:

Dodds WK, 2003. The role of periphyton in phosphorus retention in shallow freshwater aquatic systems. J. Phycol. 39:840–849. DOI:

Elosegi A, Pozo J, 2016. Altered organic matter dynamics in rivers and streams: ecological consequences and management implications. Limnetica 35:303–322.

Gallego IN, Casas JJ, Sánchez-Castillo P, Fuentes-Rodríguez F, Juan M, Pérez-Martínez C, 2013. Culture of Spirogyra africana from farm ponds for long-term experiments and stock maintenance. Biotechnol. Agron. Société Environ. 17:423–430.

Grantz EM, Haggard BE, Scott JT, 2014. Stoichiometric imbalance in rates of nitrogen and phosphorus retention, storage, and recycling can perpetuate nitrogen deficiency in highly-productive reservoirs. Limnol. Oceanogr. 59:2203–2216. DOI:

Guildford SJ, Hecky RE, 2000. Total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and nutrient limitation in lakes and oceans: Is there a common relationship? Limnol. Oceanogr. 45:1213–1223. DOI:

Haggard BE, Scott JT, Patterson S, 2012. Sediment phosphorus flux in an Oklahoma reservoir suggests reconsideration of watershed management planning. Lake Reserv. Manag. 28:59–69. DOI:

Haggard BE, Smith DR, Brye KR, 2007. Variations in Stream Water and Sediment Phosphorus among Select Ozark Catchments. J. Environ. Qual. 36:1725. DOI:

Haggard BE, Soerens TS, 2006. Sediment phosphorus release at a small impoundment on the Illinois River, Arkansas and Oklahoma, USA. Ecol. Eng. 28:280–287. DOI:

Hanson MJ, Stefan HG, 1984. Side effects of 58 years of copper sulfate treatment of Fairmont Lakes, Minnesota. JAWRA J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 20:889–900. DOI:

Hillebrand H, Sommer U, 1999. The nutrient stoichiometry of benthic microalgal growth: Redfield proportions are optimal. Limnol. Oceanogr. 44:440–446. DOI:

Huser B, Brezonik P, Newman R, 2011. Effects of alum treatment on water quality and sediment in the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, Minnesota, USA. Lake Reserv. Manag. 27:220–228. DOI:

Jarvie HP, Sharpley AN, Spears B, Buda AR, May L, Kleinman PJA, 2013. Water quality remediation faces unprecedented challenges from “legacy Phosphorus.” Environ. Sci. Technol. 47:8997–8998. DOI:

Johnson LT, Tank JL, Dodds WK, 2009. The influence of land use on stream biofilm nutrient limitation across eight North American ecoregions. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 66:1081–1094. DOI:

Lasater AL, Haggard BE, 2017. Sediment Phosphorus Flux at Lake Tenkiller, Oklahoma: How Important Are Internal Sources? Agric. Environ. Lett. 2. DOI:

Lu H, Wan J, Li J, Shao H, Wu Y, 2016. Periphytic biofilm: A buffer for phosphorus precipitation and release between sediments and water. Chemosphere 144:2058–2064. DOI:

Ludwig A, Matlock M, Haggard B, Chaubey I, 2012. Periphyton Nutrient Limitation and Maximum Potential Productivity in the Beaver Lake Basin, United States 1. J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 48:896–908. DOI:

Maberly SC, King L, Dent MM, Jones RI, Gibson CE, 2002. Nutrient limitation of phytoplankton and periphyton growth in upland lakes. Freshw. Biol. 47:2136–2152. DOI:

Matlock MD, Matlock ME, Storm DE, Smolen MD, Henley WJ, 1998. Limiting nutrient determination in lotic ecosystems using a quantitative nutrient enrichment peripphytometer. J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 34:1141–1147. DOI:

McCarty JA, 2020. Algal demand drives sediment phosphorus release in a shallow eutrophic cove. Trans. ASABE. 62: 1315-1324. DOI:

McKnight DM, Chisholm SW, Harleman DRF, 1983. CuSO 4 treatment of nuisance algal blooms in drinking water reservoirs. Environ. Manage. 7:311–320. DOI:

Meis S, Spears BM, Maberly SC, O’Malley MB, Perkins RG, 2012. Sediment amendment with Phoslock® in Clatto Reservoir (Dundee, UK): investigating changes in sediment elemental composition and phosphorus fractionation. J. Environ. Manage. 93:185–193. DOI:

Mortimer CH, 1971. Chemical Exchanges Between Sediments an Water in The Great Lakes-Speculations on Probable Regulatory Mechanisms. Limnol. Oceanogr. 16:387–404. DOI:

Müller S, Mitrovic SM, 2015. Phytoplankton co-limitation by nitrogen and phosphorus in a shallow reservoir: progressing from the phosphorus limitation paradigm. Hydrobiologia 744:255–269. DOI:

Paerl HW, Scott JT, McCarthy MJ, Newell SE, Gardner WS, Havens KE, Hoffman DK, Wilhelm SW, Wurtsbaugh WA, 2016. It Takes Two to Tango: When and Where Dual Nutrient (N & P) Reductions Are Needed to Protect Lakes and Downstream Ecosystems. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50:10805–10813. DOI:

Reddy KR, Diaz OA, Scinto LJ, Agami M, 1995. Phosphorus dynamics in selected wetlands and streams of the Lake Okeechobee Basin. Ecol. Eng. 5:183–207. DOI:

Schindler DW, 1977. Evolution of phosphorus limitation in lakes. Sci. 195:260–262. DOI:

Schindler DW, Hecky RE, Findlay DL, Stainton MP, Parker BR, Paterson MJ, Beaty KG, Lyng M, Kasian SEM, 2008. Eutrophication of lakes cannot be controlled by reducing nitrogen input: results of a 37-year whole-ecosystem experiment. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 105:11254–11258. DOI:

Scott JT, Doyle RD, Back JA, Dworkin SI, 2007. The role of N 2 fixation in alleviating N limitation in wetland metaphyton: enzymatic, isotopic, and elemental evidence. Biogeochemistry 84:207–218. DOI:

Scott JT, Doyle RD, Filstrup CT, 2005. Periphyton nutrient limitation and nitrogen fixation potential along a wetland nutrient-depletion gradient. Wetlands 25:439–448. DOI:

Scott JT, Grantz EM, 2013. N2 fixation exceeds internal nitrogen loading as a phytoplankton nutrient source in perpetually nitrogen-limited reservoirs. Freshw. Sci. 32:849–861. DOI:

Sen S, Haggard BE, Chaubey I, Brye KR, Costello TA, Matlock MD, 2007. Sediment Phosphorus Release at Beaver Reservoir, Northwest Arkansas, USA, 2002-2003: A Preliminary Investigation. Water. Air. Soil Pollut. 179:67–77. DOI:

Sharpley A, Jarvie HP, Buda A, May L, Spears B, Kleinman P, 2013. Phosphorus Legacy: Overcoming the Effects of Past Management Practices to Mitigate Future Water Quality Impairment. J. Environ. Qual. 42:1308–1326. DOI:

Sharpley AN, Haggard BE, Berry L, Brye K, Burke J, Daniels MB, Gbur E, Glover T, Hays P, Kresse T, VanDevender KW, 2017. Nutrient Concentrations in Big Creek Correlate to Regional Watershed Land Use. Agric. Environ. Lett. 2. DOI:

Smith VH, 2003. Eutrophication of freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems a global problem. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 10:126–139. DOI:

Smith VH, Tilman GD, Nekola JC, 1999. Eutrophication: impacts of excess nutrient inputs on freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. Environ. Pollut. 100:179–196. DOI:

Søndergaard M, Bjerring R, Jeppesen E, 2013. Persistent internal phosphorus loading during summer in shallow eutrophic lakes. Hydrobiologia 710:95–107. DOI:

Søndergaard M, Jensen JP, Jeppesen E, 2003. Role of sediment and internal loading of phosphorus in shallow lakes. Hydrobiologia 506:135–145. DOI:

Steinman A, Chu ÆX, Ogdahl ÆM, 2009. Spatial and temporal variability of internal and external phosphorus loads in Mona Lake, Michigan. 1–18.

Stevenson RJ, 1996. An introduction to algal ecology in freshwater benthic habitats. In: Stevenson RJ, M Bothwell, R Lowe (eds.), Algal Ecology. Freshwater Benthic Ecosystems, San Diego, CA: Academic Press. p. 3–30. DOI:

Suplee MW, Watson V, Teply M, McKee H, 2009. How Green is Too Green? Public Opinion of What Constitutes Undesirable Algae Levels in Streams 1. J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 45:123–140. DOI:

Townsend SA, Schult JH, Douglas MM, Skinner S, 2008. Does the Redfield ratio infer nutrient limitation in the macroalga Spirogyra fluviatilis? Freshw. Biol. 53:509–520. DOI:

Zhu W, Zhou X, Chen H, Gao L, Xiao M, Li M, 2016. High nutrient concentration and temperature alleviated formation of large colonies of Microcystis: evidence from field investigations and laboratory experiments. Water Res. 101:167–175. DOI:

Original Articles
Edited By
Irina Izaguirre, Departamento de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sediment P-flux, Nutrient limitation, Nuisance periphyton growth
  • Abstract views: 901

  • PDF: 188
  • HTML: 0
How to Cite
Austin BJ, Eagle V, Evans-White MA, Scott JT, Haggard BE. Sediment phosphorus release sustains nuisance periphyton growth when nitrogen is not limiting: Sediment phosphorus sustains nuisance periphyton. J Limnol [Internet]. 2020Apr.3 [cited 2021Apr.23];79(3). Available from: