Olsen, B. K., M. F. Chislock, A. Rebelein, and A. E. Wilson. 2017. Nutrient enrichment and vertical mixing mediate 2-methylisoborneol and geosmin concentrations in a drinking water reservoir. Water Science and Technology: Water Supply 17(2):500-507.
Few ecosystem-level studies have experimentally determined the physicochemical and biological factors that mediate concentrations of off-flavor compounds in drinking water reservoirs. Consequently, the watershed-scale mechanisms determining production of these compounds are still poorly understood. In a recent study, the addition of both nitrogen and phosphorus significantly increased 2-methylisoborneol (MIB). Not surprisingly, MIB was correlated with cyanobacterial abundance (a well-known producer of off-flavor compounds); however, MIB was most strongly correlated with diatom abundance. To empirically test for differences in the production of two important off-flavor compounds, specifically MIB and geosmin, by either cyanobacteria or diatoms, we conducted a fully factorial experiment that manipulated two factors that typically promote cyanobacteria (nitrogen and phosphorus fertilization) or diatoms (vertical mixing of the water column). As predicted, fertilization promoted cyanobacteria, and vertical mixing favored diatoms. Interestingly, the production of geosmin was rapid and consistent with an increase in cyanobacteria while MIB production increased later in the experiment when cyanobacterial biovolume tended to decline and diatom biovolume increased. Based on our current and previous studies, MIB and geosmin production is associated with cyanobacteria, but the direct or indirect influence of diatoms on production should not be ignored.
Olsen, B. K., M. F. Chislock, and A. E. Wilson. 2016. Eutrophication mediates a common off-flavor compound, 2-methylisoborneol, in a drinking water reservoir. Water Research 92:228-234.
Off-flavors, such as 2-methylisoborneol (MIB) and geosmin, cause drinking water to have earthy or musty tastes and odors. Humans can detect such compounds at minute concentrations (10 and 30 ng/L for MIB and geosmin, respectively), and, although not a health risk, off-flavors can promote consumer distrust. Removal of these compounds is costly and often unreliable or only suitable under certain conditions. Minimizing off-flavor production at the watershed-scale may be more cost-effective in addition to improving ecosystem health and aesthetics. Cyanobacteria are considered to be the primary drivers of off-flavors in freshwater systems. Due to their ability to produce toxins, cyanobacteria have been under particular scrutiny, and environmental factors promoting cyanobacterial blooms are relatively well-studied. Using this body of literature, we conducted a seven-week, limnocorral experiment where we manipulated nitrogen and nitrogen-to-phosphorus concentrations to influence phytoplankton community structure and off-flavor production. The addition of a single nutrient across broad ranges (nitrogen or phosphorus) had no effect on MIB. However, the addition of both nitrogen and phosphorus promoted high concentrations of MIB relative to treatments that received no nutrients (448% increase) or only nitrogen or phosphorus (722% increase). Interestingly, cyanobacteria waned during the experiment and were replaced by diatoms, which were the dominant taxa by the end of the experiment. Our findings clearly show that eutrophication affects MIB production, but mechanisms leading to the production of this compound may differ from what has been previously predicted.