Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019TN246B

Harmful algal blooms in critical amphibian habitats at Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Institute: Tennessee
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-05-31 End Date: 2020-05-30
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: Not available

Principal Investigators: Brittaney Hogan

Abstract: Harmful algal blooms are a growing concern at Mammoth Cave (MACA) National Park, Kentucky, because of the danger they pose to the tourists and sensitive ecosystems. MACA has ~650,000 annual visitors and was designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1990 because of the outstanding ecosystems on the surface and subsurface. It is home to over 70 threatened, endangered or State listed species (MACA NPS, 2014, 2017) and has declining amphibian populations. There is concern that cyanotoxins may be exacerbating pathogens such as chytrid fungus and renavirus. In December 2017, January and April of 2018, the USGS, in partnership with MACA and Tennessee State University, ran preliminary tests for the cyanotoxins microcystin and saxitoxin, and genetic tests for cyanobacterial presence in surface and cave waters. Microcystins were detected in surface waters and cave lampenflora at concentrations greater than 0.3 µg/L, the EPA advisory level for microcystin, and, established that cyanobacteria capable of producing cyanotoxin are present in cave and surface waters. These preliminary results validate concerns that harmful algal blooms are a danger to MACA’s ecosystems and tourists. The goal of this proposed research is to better understand the distribution and occurrence of cyanobacteria and toxins in critical amphibian habitats, such as the vernal ponds and illuminated cave passages of Mammoth Cave National Park. A census of the amphibians that use the ponds for breeding will be conducted to establish a connection between water chemistry and amphibian use. This information will help resource managers better predict, manage, and mitigate the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. A total of 100 environmental samples will be collected at four amphibian ponds, two Green River sites and six cave locations with lampenflora. Those samples will be analyzed for field parameters, nutrients, cyanotoxins, community structure, and cyanobacteria by molecular methods (Rinta-Kanto et al, 2005; Graham et al, 2008). Depending on the molecular assay, either TaqMan Universal PCR Master Mix or SYBR Green PCR Master Mix (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, Calif.) will be used as described in Stelzer et al, (2013). In addition to distribution and occurrence, this research will provide data on the timing and conditions that lead to bloom development, the production of microcystin toxin, and the effects on amphibians.