Benthic cyanobacteria in rivers produce cyanotoxins and affect aquatic food webs, but knowledge of their ecology lags behind planktonic cyanobacteria. The buoyancy of benthic Anabaena spp. mats was studied to understand implications for Anabaena dispersal in the Eel River, California. Field experiments were used to investigate the effects of oxygen bubble production and dissolution on the buoyancy of Anabaena dominated benthic mats in response to light exposure. Samples of Anabaena dominated mats were harvested from the South Fork Eel River and placed in settling columns to measure floating and sinking velocities, or deployed into in situ ambient and low light treatments to measure the effect of light on flotation. Floating and sinking occurred within minutes and were driven by oxygen bubbles produced during photosynthesis, rather than intracellular changes in carbohydrates or gas vesicles. Light experiment results showed that in a natural ambient light regime, mats remained floating for at least 4days, while in low light mats begin to sink in <24h. Floating Anabaena samples were collected from five sites in the watershed and found to contain the cyanotoxins anatoxin-a and microcystin, with higher concentrations of anatoxin-a (median 560, max 30,693ng/gDW) than microcystin (median 30, max 37ng/gDW). The ability of Anabaena mats to maintain their buoyancy will markedly increase their downstream dispersal distances. Increased buoyancy also allows toxin-containing mats to collect along shorelines, increasing threats to human and animal public health.
Bouma-Gregson, K., Power, M.E., and Bormans, M. (2017): Rise and fall of toxic benthic freshwater cyanobacteria (Anabaena spp) in the Eel river: Buoyancy and dispersal. Harmful Algae 66: 79-87. DOI: 10.1016/j.hal.2017.05.007
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.