This study aims to elucidate the key mechanisms controlling phytoplankton growth and decay within the Thames basin through the application of a modified version of an established river-algal model and comparison with observed stream water chlorophyll-a concentrations. The River Thames showed a distinct simulated phytoplankton seasonality and behaviour having high spring, moderate summer and low autumn chlorophyll-a concentrations. Three main sections were identified along the River Thames with different phytoplankton abundance and seasonality: (i) low chlorophyll-a concentrations from source to Newbridge; (ii) steep concentration increase between Newbridge and Sutton; and (iii) high concentrations with a moderate increase in concentration from Sutton to the end of the study area (Maidenhead). However, local hydrologic (e.g. locks) and other conditions (e.g. radiation, water depth, grazer dynamics, etc.) affected the simulated growth and losses. The model achieved good simulation results during both calibration and testing through a range of hydrological and nutrient conditions. Simulated phytoplankton growth was controlled predominantly by residence time, but during medium–low flow periods available light, water temperature and herbivorous grazing defined algal community development. These results challenge the perceived importance of in-stream nutrient concentrations as the perceived primary control on phytoplankton growth and death.

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