Beneath the surface: spatial and temporal trends in water quality and its impacts on algal community composition in the Albemarle Sound, North Carolina

Aquat Ecol. 2023;57(2):243-262. doi: 10.1007/s10452-023-10008-y. Epub 2023 Mar 15.


Urban and agricultural expansion and intensification pose a critical threat to water quality and aquatic ecosystems. Increased nutrient loading into waterways combined with warming temperatures due to climate change have increased eutrophication and algal blooms. The relationship between land use, nutrient availability, and algal growth can vary dramatically across space and time, but few studies have captured this variation. The goal of this research is to assess water quality across time and disparate land uses, and its influence on algal community composition in the Albemarle Sound, a brackish water estuary in North Carolina. We collected water quality data from 21 sites across the sound, visiting six sites in Chowan County biweekly and 15 other sites twice between June and August 2020. Water samples from each site were tested for nitrate, phosphate, ammonia, bicarbonate, and total phosphorus (TP). Preserved algal samples from the six Chowan County sites were enumerated under a microscope to estimate genus richness and biomass. In the Chowan County sites, phosphorus increased and nitrate decreased over the course of the summer. Across all sites, TP increased with development and agricultural land use. These results suggest that sources of nitrogen and phosphorus in the sound differ. Algal richness increased with nitrate concentration and decreased with precipitation while biomass increased with water temperature. Our results indicate that climate change impacts, particularly increasing temperatures and extreme precipitation, influence how land use, water quality, and algal community composition interact. These data demonstrate the co-benefits of mitigating climate change in developing management strategies to reduce algal blooms.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10452-023-10008-y.

PMID:37223620 | PMC:PMC10016187 | DOI:10.1007/s10452-023-10008-y


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