Biomonitoring of Lake Garda: Identification of ciliate species and symbiotic algae responsible for the “black-spot” bloom during the summer of 2004

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At the end of July 2004, a “black-spot” appeared in the western portion of Lake Garda, an oligomictic lake classified as meso-oligotrophic. A few days later, this phenomenon spread throughout the lake. A first analysis by optical microscopy revealed that the origin of the black spot was a ciliated protozoan. Ciliates represent a small percentage of the total zooplanktonic community of Lake Garda and have never produced bloom episodes. Using morphological and molecular analysis, we characterized the protozoan responsible for the bloom as Stentor amethystinus and its symbiotic algae as a Chlorella sp. Continuous monitoring of the northeast of Lake Garda showed that the apex of the S. amethystinus bloom took place during the first 20 days of August, and the highest density of S. amethystinus occurred in the euphotic zone. During this period, high chlorophyll a values were obtained in water samples collected from the euphotic zone due to the presence of the endosymbiont Chlorella. After early September, the black spot completely disappeared, and the causative organism was detected at low concentration only in the southern basin of the lake. The results obtained on the progress of the black spot phenomenon led us to hypothesize that: (i) S. amethystinus was recently introduced in Lake Garda by anthropogenic activities or it was already a member of the zooplanktonic community but at a very low concentration; (ii) S. amethystinus blooms may have been driven by an unusual high availability of total phosphorous in the euphotic zone and (iii) Lake Garda is not the preferred habitat for S. amethystinus.

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