Recovery of plankton from hurricane impacts in a large
Karl E. Havens
John R. Beaver
Therese L. East
Florida Sea Grant College Program,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
College of Fisheries and Life Science,
Shanghai Ocean University, Shanghai, China
BSA Environmental Services, Beachwood,
South Florida Water Management District,
West Palm Beach, FL, USA
Karl E. Havens, Florida Sea Grant College
Program, Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville,
1. We quantified recovery of plankton in a large subtropical shallow lake from the
catastrophic impacts of three successive major hurricanes. This assessment was
possible because hurricanes passed directly over the lake amid an ongoing long-
term sampling programme that included nearly all components of the plankton,
from bacteria to crustacean zooplankton.
2. We compared attributes of plankton 5 years after the hurricanes to a pre-hurri-
cane period and to a period immediately after the storms. We evaluated both
community-level properties (biomass, biomass ratios, diversity, and dominance of
major plankton groups) and species-level properties (species absolute and relative
biomass) at four sites in the lake representing different ecological zones.
3. The hurricanes strongly affected water quality and plankton community struc-
ture. The lake experienced a regime shift, losing its submerged aquatic vegeta-
tion and becoming homogenous and turbid at all sampled sites.
4. Five years after the storms, chemical and physical conditions recovered across
the lake, with a few exceptions. Between 35 and 93 plankton species were lost
at the sampling sites, with greatest losses in the phytoplankton. Relative species
biomass displayed substantive changes too. Daphnia ambigua did not recover at
three of the sites, Polyarthra vulgaris greatly increased lake-wide, and at a central
pelagic site, there was a total loss of heterotrophic nano-flagellates and a much
higher biomass of diatoms than before the hurricanes, despite recovery of irradi-
ance, depth, nutrient levels and other attributes.
5. Most community-level properties were resilient, returning to pre-hurricane condi-
tions of total biomass, ratios of autotrophs to heterotrophs and ratios of proto-
zoa to metazoa. This likely happened because of species compensation in the
biodiverse community. The exception was at a central pelagic site, where the
community-level properties did not recover and nearly 50 per cent of species
6. The community resilience, despite a regime shift, may have occurred because of
a controlled lowering of water levels in the lake for flood protection, which led
to regrowth of lost submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and migration of mud
sediments back towards mid-lake.
7. In this lake and others with a history of high nutrient inputs, shallow depth and
flocculent sediments, resilience may be low unless counter-acting forces are able
to push the system back after a regime shift.
Accepted: 8 January 2018
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/fwb Freshwater Biology. 2018;63:366–379.