OWML: Completed Projects
Using new tools to better understand and
predict harmful cyanobacterial algal blooms (cyanoHABs) at Ohio Lake Erie
and inland beaches.
Project support: Erin Stelzer,
Chris Ecker, Carrie Huitger, Amie Brady
Project funding: Ohio Water Development
Authority, U.S. Geological Survey
University of Toledo, Clermont County Soil and Water Conservation District, Ohio Department of
Natural Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency,
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Project duration: 2013-2015
In Ohio, local health officials have identified the presence of
cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) during the summer and early
fall seasons at some Lake Erie and inland lake beaches and access areas. The
cyanoHABs are caused by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that produce
microcystin and other toxins.
Microcystins are commonly produced by cyanobacteria in the genera
Microcystis, Planktothrix, and Dolichospermum (formerly
Anabaena) (Rantala et al., 2006). For toxin production to occur, the
microcystin synthetase genes (mcy) must be present in the genome of
toxic strains. Known microcystin-producing genera include both toxic strains
(with the mcy genes) and nontoxic strains (without the mcy genes),
which can be differentiated only by molecular detection methods such as
quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Whereas DNA-based qPCR
methods reveal the presence of toxin genes (irrespective of whether they are
actively producing toxin), RNA-based methods can detect microcystin-producing
cyanobacteria that are actively expressing the toxin genes (Sipari et al.,
Optical sensors that measure algal pigments have been used to provide early
warnings of cyanobacterial presence in recreational waters (Marion et al.,
2012) and drinking-water sources (Brient et al., 2008; McQuaid et al.,
2011). These include sensors based on the fluorescent properties of
chlorophyll (indicative of total phytoplankton abundance) and phycocyanin
(indicative of cyanobacterial abundance).
Current methods for identifying cyanobacteria by microscopy are time
consuming and are unable to identify whether a strain has the ability to
produce toxins. Methods are needed to better identify and understand the
potential for toxin production in cyanobacterial populations and, at the
same time, provide an early warning system for toxin production.
Goals and objectives:
The overall goal is to apply qPCR methods and optical sensor tools to
better understand the link between cyanobacteria type and abundance,
environmental and water-quality factors, and occurrence of toxins.
Objectives are to
understand how the cyanobacterial community progresses from nontoxic to
toxic strains and the progression from unexpressed to expressed genes;
determine the relations between toxin production and environmental and
water-quality variables to help support predictive capabilities for
determine whether adding new tools to daily monitoring programs at
beaches could be used to provide better, more relevant public health
information to beach managers and the public as compared to the use of
currently used methods for determining toxin concentrations and (or)
Sampling sites and frequency
Samples were collected at Ohio recreational sites (Fig.
1) from May–November in 2013 and 2014 using procedures described in
Graham and others (2008).
During 2013, samples were collected approximately monthly from the four
Lake Erie and four inland lake beach sites listed below. Samples were
collected to facilitate an initial assessment and select sites for more
intensive sampling during 2014.
- Maumee Bay State Park Lake Erie beach
- Maumee Bay State Park inland lake beach (control site)
- Sandusky Bay at Bay View
- Lake Erie at Lakeview Park, Port Clinton
- Buck Creek State Park beach (CJ Brown Reservoir)
- East Fork State Park Campers beach (Harsha Lake)
- Deer Creek State Park beach
- Buckeye Lake Crystal beach
During 2014, samples were collected approximately weekly at five sites at
- Maumee Bay State Park Lake Erie
- East Fork State Park Main beach
- East Fork State Park Campers Beach
- Buckeye Lake Fairfield beach
- Buckeye Lake Onion Island
Constituents measured included the following:
Specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, chlorophyll,
and phycocyanin using an in-situ water-quality sensor at the time of
Secchi depth at the time of sampling
Samples preserved on ice and shipped to laboratories for
Dissolved and total nutrients (USGS National Water Quality Laboratory)
Cyanotoxins (microcystin, saxitoxin, and cylindrospermospsins by ELISA
(USGS Kansas Organic Geochemistry Laboratory)
Phytoplankton abundance and community structure by microscopy
- Cyanobacteria genes by qPCR on four levels (USGS Ohio Water
- Total cyanobacteria (Rinta-Kanto et al., 2005)
- Total Microcystis (Rinta-Kanto et al., 2005)
- Genus-specific DNA mcyE assays for Microsystis and and
Planktothrix (Rantala et al., 2006)
- Genus-specific RNA mcyE assays for expressed genes (Sipari
et al., 2010)
Results and Conclusions:
Data are available at the USGS National Water Information System web site (NWIS-web)
by site identification number (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/oh/nwis/qw/).
The final project report (Francy and others, 2015) is available on-line (http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20155120).
Statistically significant correlations were found between microcystin
concentrations and phycocyanin, turbidity, pH, streamflow, lake level
change, nutrient concentrations, cyanobacterial genes, and cyanobacterial
cell counts. The relations between these factors and microcystin
concentrations were site specific and even differed at the same site
depending on whether data were continuously or discretely measured. Models
were developed at Maumee Bay State Park beach for predicting microcystin
concentrations above or below the Ohio Recreational Public Health Advisory
level of 6 ug L-1 (Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). The results
of this study showed that environmental factors are promising for use in
site-specific models for cyanoHABs at freshwater lakes. Future studies
should focus on collecting more frequent data on several consecutive days
each week before, during, and after the cyanoHAB season to develop robust
Brient, L., Lengronne, M., Bertrand, E., Rolland, D., Sipel, A.,
Steinmann, D., Baudin, I., Legeas, M., Le Rouzic, B., and Bormans, M., 2008,
A phycocyanin probe as a tool for monitoring cyanobacteria in freshwater
bodies: J. Environmental Monitoring 10(2), 248–255.
Francy, D.S., Graham, J.L., Stelzer, E.A., Ecker, C.D., Brady, A.M.G.,
Struffolino, P., and Loftin, K.A., 2015, Water quality, cyanobacteria, and
environmental factors and their relations to microcystin concentrations for
use in predictive models at Ohio Lake Erie and inland lake recreational
sites, 2013–14: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report
2015–5120, 58 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20155120.
Graham, J.L., Loftin, K.A., Ziegler, A.C., and Meyer, M.T., 2008, Guidelines
for design and sampling for cyanobacterial toxin and taste-and-odor studies
in lakes and reservoirs: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations
Report 2008–5038, 39 p.
McQuaid, N., Zamyadi, A., Prevost, M., Bird, D.F., and Dorner, S., 2011, Use
of in vivo phycocyanin fluorescence to monitor potential microgystin-producing
cyanobacterial biovolume in a drinking water source: J. Environmental
Monitoring 13, 455–463.
Marion, J.W., Lee, J., Wilkins, J.R. III, Lemeshow, S., Lee, C., Waletzko,
E.J., and Buckley, T.J., 2012, In vivo phycocyanin fluorometry as a
potential rapid screening tool for predicting elevated microcystin
concentrations at eutrophic lakes: Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 4523–4531.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, 2015, State of Ohio—harmful algal
bloom response strategy for recreational waters, accessed October 2015 at
Rantala, A., Rajaniemi-Wacklin, P., Lyra, C., Lepisto, L., Rintala, J.,
Mankiewicz-Boczek, J., and Sivonen, K., 2006, Detection of microcystin-producing
cyanobacteria in Finnish lakes with genus-specific microcystin synthetase
gene E (mcyE) PCR and associations with environmental factors: Appl.
Environ. Microbiol. 72, 6101–6110.
Rinta-Kanto, J.M., Ouellette, A.J.A., Boyer, G.L., Twiss, M.R., Bridgeman,
T.B., and Wilhelm, S.W., 2005, Quantification of toxic Microcystis spp.
during the 2003 and 2004 blooms in western Lake Erie using quantitative
real-time PCR: Environ. Sci. Technol. 39, 4198-4205.
Sipari, H., Rantala-Ylinen, A., Jokela, J., Oksanen, I., and Sivonen, K.,
2010, Development of a chip assay and quantitative PCR for detecting
microcystin synthetase E gene expression: Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 76,