In the Laurentian Great Lakes, phytoplankton growth and biomass are secondarily limited by silica (Si), as a result of phosphorus (P) enrichment. Even modest levels of P enrichment can induce secondary Silimitation, which, in turn, promotes a shift from the native diatom phytoplankton flora to chlorophyte and cyanobacteria species. However, very little is known about the nutritional status of benthic populations and their response to nutrient enrichment. Two experiments were performed in the littoral zone of Lake Michigan where nutrients were delivered to in situ benthic algal (episammic and epilithic) assemblages using nutrient-diffusing substrata. In order to test the hypothesis that benthic algae in Lake Michigan are Si limited, a 2 x 3 factorial experiment was used to deliver all combinations of Si, N, and P to resident assemblages growing on artificial substrata composed of natural (Si rich) versus calcium carbonate (Si poor) sand. A second experiment utilized a serial enrichment to evaluate the role of Si in mediating changes in taxonomic composition. These findings indicate that benthic algae in Lake Michigan exhibit signs of secondary Si limitation, and that their response to enrichment is similar to the phytoplankton. Moreover, natural sand substrata may provide a source of Si to resident benthic algae.
- Benthic algae
- Great Lakes