The Future of Cyanobacteria Toxicity in Estuaries Undergoing Pulsed Nutrient Inputs: A Case Study from Coastal Louisiana
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The Future of Cyanobacteria Toxicity in Estuaries Undergoing Pulsed Nutrient Inputs: A Case Study from Coastal Louisiana

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    Harmful cyanobacteria blooms (cyanoHABs) are a global phenomenon, especially in calm, warm, and nutrient-rich freshwater and estuarine systems. These blooms can produce various potent toxins responsible for animal poisoning and human health problems. Nutrient-rich freshwater pulsed into estuaries affects turbidity, water temperature, salinity, and nutrient concentrations and ratios at irregular intervals, creating a highly dynamic habitat. However, the underlying processes that lead to the selective development of cyanoHABs for certain species and the fate of their toxins are still uncertain. This paper draws upon the rich body of research available for one such system, the Lake Pontchartrain Estuary, Louisiana, to generate insights about future research directions in pulsed-nutrient-delivery estuaries. Toxin-producing cyanobacteria blooms in river-dominated Louisiana coastal ecosystems have already been documented at high concentrations, presenting a potential risk to human health as $2.4 billion worth of Louisiana’s fish and shellfish are consumed by millions of people throughout the US every year. Recent studies have shown that the Lake Pontchartrain Estuary, just north of New Orleans, Louisiana has been experiencing cyanoHABs, likely connected to combinations of (a) high interannual variability in nutrient loading associated with seasonal and episodic rainfall, (b) the timing, duration, and magnitude of the flood-stage Mississippi River water diverted into the Lake Pontchartrain Estuary, and (c) saltwater inputs from tropical storms. It is expected that cyanoHABs will become more frequent in Louisiana with a warming climate and changes to the timing and magnitude of river water diverted into the Lake Pontchartrain Estuary, which will play a dominant role in the development of blooms in this region. More studies are needed to focus on the environmental conditions that control the succession or/and co-existence of different cyanobacteria species and their toxins, optimally culminating in a near-term forecasting tool since this information is critical for health agencies to mitigate or to provide early warnings. Toxin forecasts for pulsed-nutrient estuaries, including Lake Pontchartrain, could directly inform state and municipal health agencies on human exposure risks to upcoming cyanobacteria toxicity events by predicting cyanobacteria species shifts, potency, and toxin modality along the freshwater-to-marine continuum while also informing a longer-term projection on how the changing climate will impact the frequency and potency of such blooms.
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    Water, 15(21), 3816
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    CC BY
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