Non-traditional abiotic drivers explain variability of chlorophyll-a in a shallow estuarine embayment

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Department of Social Sciences


Understanding the factors influencing eutrophication, as represented by concentrations of chlorophyll-a (Chl-a), is needed to inform effective management and conservation strategies promoting ecological resilience. The objective of this study was to evaluate a unique combination of abiotic explanatory factors to describe Chl-a concentrations within the study estuary (North Biscayne Bay, Florida, USA). Multiple linear regression determined the strength and direction of influence of factors using data from 10 water quality monitoring stations. The analysis also considered time scales for evaluating cumulative effects of freshwater inflow and wind. Results show that dominant drivers of Chl-a were temperature, freshwater volume (whose cumulative effects were evaluated up to a 60-day time scale), and turbidity, which were statistically significant at 60, 60, and 70 % of the investigated stations, respectively. All drivers collectively accounted for 22 to 63 % of the variability of Chl-a measurements. Of the nine variables evaluated, nutrient concentrations (orthophosphate and ammonia) were not among the top three overall drivers. Despite nutrients historically being cited in the literature as the most significant factor, this study asserts that non-nutrient factors often govern Chl-a levels, necessitating a paradigm shift in management strategies to bolster estuarine resilience against climate change.

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Science of the Total Environment