Algal bloom (AB) risk assessment is critical for maintaining ecosystem health and human sustainability. Previous AB risk assessments have focused on the potential occurrence of ABs and related factors in the growing season, whereas their hazards, especially in the pre-growing season, have attracted less attention. Here, we performed a comprehensive AB risk assessment, including water trophic levels, phytoplankton biomass, functional trait-based assemblages, and related environmental factors, in the pre-growing season in Dongting Lake, China. Although mesotrophic water and low phytoplankton biomass suggested low AB potential, toxic taxa, which constituted 13.28% of the phytoplankton biomass, indicated non-negligible AB hazards. NH4+ and water temperature were key factors affecting phytoplankton motility and toxicity. Our study establishes a new paradigm for quantitative AB risk assessment, including both potential AB occurrence and hazards. We emphasize the importance of phytoplankton functional traits for early AB warning and NH4+ reduction for AB control in the pre-growing season.

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