Diatom responses to 20th century climate-related environmental changes in high-elevation mountain lakes of the northern Canadian Cordillera

Research paper by Tammy L. Karst-Riddoch, Michael F. J. Pisaric, John P. Smol

Indexed on: 01 Apr '05Published on: 01 Apr '05Published in: Journal of Paleolimnology


Diatom responses to 20th century climate-related environmental change were assessed from three high-elevation lakes in the northern Canadian Cordillera. Dominance of small benthic Fragilaria diatoms reflect the generally cold conditions with long periods of ice cover that have characterized these mountain lakes over at least the last ~300 years until the period of recent warming. At the turn of the 20th century, salient shifts in the diatom assemblages reveal individualistic limnological responses with the onset of climate warming trends in northwest Canada. At YK3 Lake, an oligotrophic, chemically dilute, alpine lake, increased representation of the planktonic Cyclotella pseudostelligera may reflect longer ice-free conditions and/or more stable thermal stratification. By contrast, in the more productive, alkaline lakes (BC2 and Deadspruce lakes), changes to more diverse assemblages of periphytic diatoms suggest greater benthic habitat availability, most likely associated with the enhanced growth of aquatic plants with lengthening of the growing seasons. In addition, diatom assemblages from these lakes suggest less alkaline conditions following the onset of 20th century climate warming. Continued alkalinity reduction throughout the 20th century is qualitatively inferred at the lower elevation, treeline lake (Deadspruce Lake), while greater representation of alkaliphilous Fragilaria diatoms after ~1950 suggested increased alkalinity at the alpine BC2 Lake. Our results confirm the sensitivity of diatoms from high-elevation mountain lakes to regional climate change in northwest Canada. Individualistic limnological responses to 20th century warming are potentially attributed to differences in their physical setting (e.g., bedrock geology, elevation, catchment vegetation) in this complex mountain environment.