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Rabalais, Nancy N.: 0000-0002-1514-837X

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Diversion of river waters to adjacent estuaries may occur during wetland restoration, navigation channel development, or storms. We proposed that diversions of nitrogen- and phosphorus-enriched waters from the river to estuarine waters would result in increased phytoplankton biomass and shifts to noxious or harmful algal blooms. We tested this hypothesis by conducting four seasonal microcosm experiments in which Mississippi River water was mixed at different volume ratios with ambient estuarine waters of three lakes in the upper Barataria Basin, Louisiana, USA. These lakes included two brackish lakes that were in the path of diverted Mississippi River water, and a freshwater lake that was not. The results from the 3- to 8-day experiments yielded a predictable increase in phytoplankton biomass related to nutrient additions from Mississippi River water. The subsequent decreases in the dissolved nitrate + nitrite, soluble reactive phosphorus, and silicate concentrations explained 76 to 86% of the increase in chlorophyll a concentrations in the microcosms. Our experiments showed that cyanobacteria can successfully compete with diatoms for N and P resources even under non-limiting Si conditions and that toxic cyanobacteria densities can increase to bloom levels with increased Mississippi River water inputs to ambient waters in the microcosms. Diversions of Mississippi River into adjacent estuarine waters should be considered in relation to expected and, possibly, unexpected changes in phytoplankton communities to the receiving waters and coastal ecosystems.

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