Phytoplankton of Tahoe

Phytoplankton in Lake Tahoe

Phytoplankton are photosynthetic plant cells which spend their life cycle in the pelagic zone.  Mostly single cells, and visible microscopically, these plants are central to understanding any biological ecosystems in the lake.  As the primary producers, phytoplankton are the first step in the food web.  Basic understanding of population densities, taxonomic diversity, and changes due to seasonality allow researchers to use this information for more complex studies.  Phytoplankton are biological indicators of physical and chemical changes.  Nutrients, light availability, temperature, and turbulence will impact populations and the phytoplankton response can be rapid and often predictable, making them some of the most useful organisms in limnological research. 

Research on phytoplankton has been used to document changes in nutrients, clarity, climate and food web interactions in Lake Tahoe.  Currently some special projects include research on near-shore neritic communities and the regional impacts on those populations, sediment core examination to determine changes in the populations over the last 200 years, and the use of phytoplankton to indicate the lake's biological response to forest-fire due to decreased sunlight for extended periods.