Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Watzin, Mary C.


Cyanobacteria are ancient prokaryotic organisms capable of performing oxygenic photosynthesis. An increase in the temporal and spatial distribution of cyanobacteria blooms worldwide has drawn considerable research attention in recent decades because of the health risks cyanobacteria pose to humans and wildlife through the production of cyanotoxins, interference with recreation, and ecosystem changes. A variety of hypotheses have sought to explain the increasing frequency and severity of cyanobacteria blooms around the world, with the relationship between cyanobacteria abundance and eutrophication receiving considerable attention. While the impacts of phosphorus concentration on cyanobacteria success are relatively well-studied, less is known about how nutrient stoichiometry and nitrogen uptake kinetics of different species contribute to cyanobacteria dominance. The underlying mechanism for the impacts of nitrogen to phosphorus (N:P) ratio and nitrogen form on cyanobacteria involves internal cycling of nitrogen within lakes and aspects of cyanobacteria cell physiology. The primary objective of this study was to assess the impacts of N:P ratios and nitrogen form on the growth of Microcystis aeruginosa and Anabaena flos-aquae in both axenic cultures and natural phytoplankton assemblages from Missisquoi Bay, Lake Champlain. A second objective was to determine whether treatment condition affected the production of the cyanotoxin microcystin. A final objective was to document the presence of benthic ammonium in Missisquoi Bay and the vertical migration of cyanobacteria throughout the water column in the bay, to provide evidence in support of the underlying mechanisms that might provide advantages to cyanobacteria in the bay. In laboratory culture experiments with M. aeruginosa and A. flos-aquae alone and in a mixed community, N:P ratios were varied between 5, 15, 30 and 45:1, and nitrogen was supplied as both nitrate and ammonium at each ratio. Triplicate samples were preserved after one, three and six days for cell enumeration using the standard Ütermohl method. Differences in density between initial and later times were used as an estimate of growth. Microcystin concentration was measured with the ELISA method. Weekly field sampling was conducted in the summer of 2006 in Missisquoi Bay to measure benthic nitrogen concentrations. Nocturnal sampling at varied depths in the bay was used to explore the vertical migration of cyanobacteria throughout the water column. There were weak associations between ammonium-nitrogen and M. aeruginosa growth and nitrate-nitrogen and A. flos-aquae growth, while the effects of N:P ratio on growth was highly variable across time and treatment condition. Ammonium-nitrogen was documented in the benthic water of Missisquoi Bay throughout the growing season, and M. aeruginosa dominated the vertical migration of cyanobacteria throughout the water column. The lack of clear trends visible within the data from laboratory experiments can be in part attributed to high variability of cell density within treatment conditions and the limitations of the methodology used for cell enumeration. Taken together these data suggest that the distribution of nitrogen within an aquatic system and the ability of M. aeruginosa to vertically migrate may contribute to the M. aeruginosa dominance of the summer phytoplankton community.