Dr. Daniel Roelke/Texas A&M AgriLife)
By Kendra Davis, Texas A&M University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered a correlation between the degree of competition within microalgae communities’ and the overgrowth of algal blooms that can be manipulated through hydrology, which will help to alleviate an increasing harmful algal bloom issue occurring across the United States.
Harmful algal blooms, which are known for releasing deadly toxins, are caused by an overabundance of simple plants that live in bodies of water. These blooms thrive best in warmer and drier climates and can kill aquatic life, birds and mammals, and pose negative effects on the ecosystem.
Dr. Daniel Roelke, a professor with Texas A&M University’s Wildlife and Fisheries program, has dedicated much of his research, now published in Ecology Letters, to studying the driving factors that cause algal blooms to grow in certain areas and how to manipulate the conditions where the algal blooms are reproducing in hopes that the problem can be mitigated entirely.
“Our most recent studies have shown that phytoplankton made up of species that do not strongly compete against each other suffer more from blooms in comparison to those phytoplankton made up of species that strongly compete against each other,” said Roelke. “The driving force behind the growth of blooms comes from the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus levels in a body of water. If you can manipulate the hydrology in such a way so that these two chemical compounds fluctuate through time, then you can manipulate the systems so that the phytoplankton compete against each other more strongly, thus resulting in less blooms.”
The majority of the time series data used in the Ecology Letters research has been performed in lakes in Europe. However, scientists with Texas A&M’s Wildlife and Fisheries Department are currently developing and testing methods in Texas lakes, estuaries and bays.
“The harmful algal bloom issue is increasing in frequency and magnitude as we speak, but we hope that the research studies we’ve conducted will bring us closer to mitigating the problem and finding a solution,” said Roelke. “Not only for ecological reasons, but also for the sake of human health.”
To help support Roelke’s research, Texas A&M Ph.D. student, Rika Muhl, completed a study that focuses on the environmental conditions that can affect phytoplankton.
“Just like humans, phytoplankton need certain resources to survive, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon or vitamins,” said Muhl. “The duration and intensity of harmful algal blooms is reduced when the need for those resources in phytoplankton groups is dissimilar, meaning one phytoplankton may need more nitrogen than another, and vice versa. Therefore, if we can identify and manage environmental conditions that promote healthy and diverse phytoplankton groups, we can create an environment that prevents the reproduction of out-of-control algal blooms.”
A large percentage of the funding for Roelke’s algal bloom research being conducted in Texas comes from agencies interested in combatting the problem, such as U.S. Congress and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Other agencies that are also making efforts to solve water quality issues caused by algal blooms include the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Water Development Board.
To read more about the research regarding the harmful algal bloom issue conducted by Texas A&M Ph.D. student Rika Muhl and Dr. Daniel Roelke, visit Ecology Letters at onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ele.13109
Media contact: Jeff Pool, firstname.lastname@example.org.