Reversal of a cyanobacterial bloom in response to early warnings

TitleReversal of a cyanobacterial bloom in response to early warnings
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsPace, Michael L., Batt Ryan D., Buelo Cal D., Carpenter Stephen R., Cole Jonathan J., Kurtzweil Jason T., and Wilkinson Grace M.
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Number of Pages352-357
Date PublishedJanuary 10, 2017

Directional change in environmental drivers sometimes triggers regime shifts in ecosystems. Theory and experiments suggest that regime shifts can be detected in advance, and perhaps averted, by monitoring resilience indicators such as variance and autocorrelation of key ecosystem variables. However, it is uncertain whether management action prompted by a change in resilience indicators can prevent an impending regime shift. We caused a cyanobacterial bloom by gradually enriching an experimental lake while monitoring an unenriched reference lake and a continuously enriched reference lake. When resilience indicators exceeded preset boundaries, nutrient enrichment was stopped in the experimental lake. Concentrations of algal pigments, dissolved oxygen saturation, and pH rapidly declined following cessation of nutrient enrichment and became similar to the unenriched lake, whereas a large bloom occurred in the continuously enriched lake. This outcome suggests that resilience indicators may be useful in management to prevent unwanted regime shifts, at least in some situations. Nonetheless, a safer approach to ecosystem management would build and maintain the resilience of desirable ecosystem conditions, for example, by preventing excessive nutrient input to lakes and reservoirs.