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Drivers of cyanotoxin and taste-and-odor compound presence within the benthic algae of human-disturbed rivers.

Water Research 2024 Februrary 24
Freshwater benthic algae form complex mat matrices that can confer ecosystem benefits but also produce harmful cyanotoxins and nuisance taste-and-odor (T&O) compounds. Despite intensive study of the response of pelagic systems to anthropogenic change, the environmental factors controlling toxin presence in benthic mats remain uncertain. Here, we present a unique dataset from a rapidly urbanizing community (Kansas City, USA) that spans environmental, toxicological, taxonomic, and genomic indicators to identify the prevalence of three cyanotoxins (microcystin, anatoxin-a, and saxitoxin) and two T&O compounds (geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol). Thereafter, we construct a random forest model informed by game theory to assess underlying drivers. Microcystin (11.9 ± 11.6 µg/m2 ), a liver toxin linked to animal fatalities, and geosmin (0.67 ± 0.67 µg/m2 ), a costly-to-treat malodorous compound, were the most abundant compounds and were present in 100 % of samples, irrespective of land use or environmental conditions. Anatoxin-a (8.1 ± 11.6 µg/m2 ) and saxitoxin (0.18 ± 0.39 µg/m2 ), while not always detected, showed a systematic tradeoff in their relative importance with season, an observation not previously reported in the literature. Our model indicates that microcystin concentrations were greatest where microcystin-producing genes were present, whereas geosmin concentrations were high in the absence of geosmin-producing genes. Together, these results suggest that benthic mats produce microcystin in situ but that geosmin production may occur ex situ with its presence in mats attributable to adsorption by organic matter. Our study broadens the awareness of benthic cyanobacteria as a source of harmful and nuisance metabolites and highlights the importance of benthic monitoring for sustaining water quality standards in rivers.

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