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Collaborative Research: Cyanobacteria, Nitrogen Cycling, and Export Production in the Laurentian Great Lakes


Collaborative Research: Cyanobacteria, Nitrogen Cycling, and Export Production in the Laurentian Great Lakes<br/><br/>The Great Lakes hold about 20% of the freshwater on Earth and have been increasingly impacted by human activities in recent decades. Lake Erie suffers from large, annually recurring, toxic cyanobacterial blooms in summer, whereas Lake Superior experiences smaller, localized cyanobacterial blooms after storm events. Cyanobacterial blooms have harmful ecological, human health, and economic implications. These blooms are a global phenomenon, observed in lakes and oceans, and can lead to low oxygen conditions and the production of toxins, both of which can be harmful for ecosystems. Understanding how different types of cyanobacteria influence nutrient cycling remains a major knowledge gap. This project aims to provide a deeper understanding of the long-term state of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The research approach combines new and established methods. Project results and implications will be shared with local and regional water interests in partnership with the Pittsburgh Collaboratory for Water Research, Education, and Outreach, the Great Lakes Commission Harmful Algal Blooms Collaborative, and the Lake Erie Area Research Network. Education is a central part of this project and training opportunities target next generation of scientists, including postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students. The students and postdoc will receive state-of-the-art training in the rapidly developing fields of biogeochemistry and geomicrobiology, while working with an interdisciplinary team of scientists.<br/><br/>This study will examine nitrogen cycling, phytoplankton community composition, and the nitrogen isotopic composition of chloropigments in order to evaluate cyanobacterial productivity in the modern Laurentian Great Lakes as well as the historical record of cyanobacterial blooms over the past several hundred years. The nitrogen isotope composition of chloropigments is expected to provide a powerful new proxy for understanding primary productivity and the relative importance of cyanobacteria to export production and nitrogen cycling. This proxy would be valuable not only for management of modern systems but has important implications for increasing our understanding of the role of cyanobacteria throughout Earth history. This project would test this molecular isotopic proxy in contemporary aquatic ecosystems to assess its efficacy for: (1) determining the relative contributions of cyanobacteria vs eukaryotic algae (e.g., diatoms) to primary production; (2) evaluating export production of cyanobacterial productivity (including blooms); and (3) constraining historical cyanobacteria productivity in the sedimentary record. Comparison of a system characterized by eutrophication and seasonal cyanobacterial blooms (Lake Erie) with one characterized by picocyanobacteria productivity, but the near-absence of large-scale cyanobacterial blooms (Lake Superior), will provide information about the range of impacts that cyanobacteria can have on carbon and nitrogen cycling. Further information regarding nitrogen cycling will be derived from analysis of solid and dissolved nitrogen species throughout the annual cycle, as well as seasonal studies of sediment processes to measure associated sediment nitrogen removal rates through different processes.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Siva Chaduvula
Wright State University
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