Publication Title


Document Type


Department or Program


Second Department or Program

Environmental Studies

Publication Date



Here we draw attention to the potential for pelagic bloom‐forming cyanobacteria to have substantial effects on nutrient cycling and ecosystem resilience across a wide range of lakes. Specifically, we hypothesize that cyanobacterial blooms can influence lake nutrient cycling, resilience, and regime shifts by tapping into pools of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) not usually accessible to phytoplankton. The ability of many cyanobacterial taxa to fix dissolved N2 gas is a well‐known potential source of N, but some taxa can also access pools of P in sediments and bottom waters. Both of these nutrients can be released to the water column via leakage or mortality, thereby increasing nutrient availability for other phytoplankton and microbes. Moreover, cyanobacterial blooms are not restricted to high nutrient (eutrophic) lakes: blooms also occur in lakes with low nutrient concentrations, suggesting that changes in nutrient cycling and ecosystem resilience mediated by cyanobacteria could affect lakes across a gradient of nutrient concentrations. We used a simple model of coupled N and P cycles to explore the effects of cyanobacteria on nutrient dynamics and resilience. Consistent with our hypothesis, parameters reflecting cyanobacterial modification of N and P cycling alter the number, location, and/or stability of model equilibria. In particular, the model demonstrates that blooms of cyanobacteria in low‐nutrient conditions can facilitate a shift to the high‐nutrient state by reducing the resilience of the low‐nutrient state. This suggests that cyanobacterial blooms warrant attention as potential drivers of the transition from a low‐nutrient, clear‐water regime to a high‐nutrient, turbid‐water regime, a prediction of particular concern given that such blooms are reported to be increasing in many regions of the world due in part to global climate change.


Original version is available from the publisher at:

Copyright Note

This is the publisher's version of the work. This publication appears in Bates College's institutional repository by permission of the copyright owner for personal use, not for redistribution.

Required Publisher's Statement

All articles published in Ecosphere are open-access articles distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY)