Recent global water quality crises point to an urgent need for greater understanding of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs) and their drivers. Nearshore areas of Lake Erie such as Sandusky Bay may become seasonally limited by nitrogen (N) and are characterized by distinct cHAB compositions (i.e., Planktothrix over Microcystis). This study investigated phytoplankton N uptake pathways, determined drivers of N depletion, and characterized the N budget in Sandusky Bay. Nitrate (NO3-) and ammonium (NH4+) uptake, N fixation, and N removal processes were quantified by stable isotopic approaches. Dissimilatory N reduction was a relatively modest N sink, with denitrification, anammox, and N2O production accounting for 84, 14, and 2% of sediment N removal, respectively. Phytoplankton assimilation was the dominant N uptake mechanism, and NO3- uptake rates were higher than NH4+ uptake rates. Riverine N loading was sometimes insufficient to meet assimilatory and dissimilatory demands, but N fixation alleviated this deficit. N fixation made up 23.7-85.4% of total phytoplankton N acquisition and indirectly supports Planktothrix blooms. However, N fixation rates were surprisingly uncorrelated with NO3- or NH4+ concentrations. Owing to temporal separation in sources and sinks of N to Lake Erie, Sandusky Bay oscillates between a conduit and a filter of downstream N loading to Lake Erie, delivering extensively recycled forms of N during periods of low export. Drowned river mouths such as Sandusky Bay are mediators of downstream N loading, but climate-change-induced increases in precipitation and N loading will likely intensify N export from these systems.
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Salk, Kateri R.; Bullerjahn, George S.; McKay, Robert Michael L.; Chaffin, Justin D.; and Ostrom, Nathaniel E.. (2018). Nitrogen cycling in Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie: Oscillations between strong and weak export and implications for harmful algal blooms. Biogeosciences, 15 (9), 2891-2907.