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Iron-mediated suppression of bloom-forming cyanobacteria by oxine in a eutrophic lake


Lewis Molot, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3, Canada. E-mail:


1. Published studies show that cyanobacteria have higher Fe requirements than eukaryotic algae. To test whether Fe availability can affect formation of a cyanobacterial bloom, a strong Fe chelator, oxine (8-hydroxyquinoline, C9H7NO), was added to enclosures in eutrophic Lake 227 in the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) (northwestern Ontario).

2. Aphanizomenon schindlerii growth was suppressed, and growth of eukaryotic chlorophytes significantly promoted in enclosures to which oxine had been added. Significant eukaryotic growth did not occur in enclosures treated with ammonium, suggesting that N supplied by degradation of oxine was not responsible for eukaryotic success in the oxine enclosures.

3. In situ Fe2+ measurements were unreliable because of interference from high concentrations of dissolved organic compounds. However, oxine rapidly promoted oxidation of Fe2+ to Fe3+ in deionised water, suggesting that rapid removal of Fe2+ also occurred in the oxine-treated enclosures.

4. In batch cultures, 10 μm Fe and 10 μm oxine (a 1 : 1 ratio) completely inhibited the growth of the cyanobacteria Synechococcus sp. and Anabaena flos-aquae and the chlorophytes Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata and Scenedesmus quadricauda. Increasing Fe 10-fold to 100 μm Fe completely and partially reversed oxine inhibition in the two chlorophytes but could not overcome inhibition of the cyanobacteria, indicating that inhibition was Fe-mediated at least in the eukaryotes. Since oxine binds Fe3+ in a 1 : 3 ratio (Fe : oxine), inhibition at a 1 : 1 ratio indicates that not all of the Fe is bound, and a mechanism involving Fe other than chelation was at least partly responsible for inhibition.

5. Collectively, the enclosure and laboratory results suggest that the outcome of competition between cyanobacteria and eukaryotic algae in the oxine-treated enclosures in Lake 227 was likely a result of decreased availability of Fe, especially Fe2+.

6. The results suggest that remediation methods that dramatically restrict the supply rate of Fe2+ could reduce the relative abundance of cyanobacteria in eutrophic systems.