Assessing degradation and recovery pathways in lakes impacted by eutrophication using the sediment record
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Efforts to restore enriched lakes have increased yet there remains uncertainty about whether restoration targets can be achieved and over what timescale. Paleoecological techniques, principally diatom analyses, were used to examine the degree of impact and recovery in 12 European lakes subject to eutrophication and subsequent reduction in nutrient loading. Dissimilarity scores showed that all sites experienced progressive deviation from the reference sample (core bottom) prior to nutrient
... r to nutrient reduction, and principal curves indicated gradual compositional change with enrichment. When additive models were applied to the latter, the changes were statistically significant in 9 of the 12 sites. Shifts in diatom composition following reduction in nutrient loading were more equivocal, with a reversal toward the reference flora seen only in four of the deep lakes and one of the shallow lakes. Of these, only two were significant (Lake Bled and Mjøsa). Alternative nutrient sources seem to explain the lack of apparent recovery in the other deep lakes. In three shallow lakes diatom assemblages were replaced by a community associated with lower productivity but not the one seen prior to enrichment. Internal loading and top down control may influence recovery in shallow lakes and climate change may have confounded recovery in several of the study sites. Hence, ecosystem recovery is not simply a reversal of the degradation pathway and may take several decades to complete or, for some lakes, may not take place at all. By assessing ecological change over a decadal to centennial timescale, the study highlights the important role that paleolimnology can play in establishing a benchmark against which managers can evaluate the degree to which their restoration efforts are successful.