Phosphorus inputs unmask negative effects of ultraviolet radiation on algae in a high mountain lake


P. Carrillo, Departamento Ecología, Facultad de Ciencias, 18071 Granada, Spain, fax +34 958 246166, e-mail:


Ultraviolet solar radiation (UVR) and atmospheric nutrient loads to pristine ecosystems are global climate change phenomena that simultaneously affect aquatic organisms in ways not easily predicted by single factor studies. Plankton in a high mountain lake was exposed in situ to increasing phosphorus (P) concentrations (mimicking atmospheric pulses) in absence or presence of UVR in order to identify their interactive effect on functional [primary production, organic carbon (C) release (EOC), and percentage of C released (%EOC)], growth rate, structural–physiological (algal biomass, sestonic C, P content, chlorophyll a (Chl a), and Chl a : C ratio, P cell quota, cell-specific Chl a), and stoichiometric (autotroph C : P ratio) traits. The availability of P after the pulse determined the intensity of responses by primary producers to UVR stress. All structural–physiological and functional variables significantly increased by up to two orders of magnitude in response to P enrichment. UV radiation, over a long-term scale, exerted significant deleterious effects on most structural–physiological variables when inorganic P was added at high levels (≥30 μg P L−1). The subsequent unexpected negative synergistic UVR × P effect on algal development did not support our initial hypothesis that P input might buffer the harmful UVR effect. UVR exerted a weak negative effect on primary production but strongly enhanced the absolute and percentage excretion of C (up to 60%), mechanism responsible of a significant reduction in autotroph C : P ratios. We propose that low sestonic C : P ratios are the outcome of an adaptive strategy of algae in environments with high UVR exposure and extreme nutrient limitation and have important implications for C flux through grazing vs. microbial food webs in oligotrophic systems.