Diatoms indicate that calcium decline, not acidification, explains recent cladoceran assemblage changes in south-central Ontario softwater lakes

Research paper by Jennifer L. Barrow, Adam Jeziorski, Kathleen M. Rühland, Kristopher R. Hadley, John P. Smol

Indexed on: 24 May '14Published on: 24 May '14Published in: Journal of paleolimnology


In recent decades, softwater lakes across Canada have experienced a wide array of anthropogenic influences, with acidification and climate warming of particular concern. Here, we compare modern and pre-industrial sedimentary diatom assemblages from 36 softwater lakes located on the Canadian Shield in south-central Ontario to determine whether lake acidification or reduced calcium availability was the main stressor responsible for recent declines in Ca-sensitive cladoceran taxa. Regional surveys of south-central Ontario water chemistry have identified the pH recovery of many formerly acidified lakes, and our fossil diatom-inferred pH analyses indicate that modern lakewater pH in the 36 study lakes is similar to (or higher than) pre-industrial levels, with diatom assemblages from both time periods dominated by taxa with similar pH preferences. In addition, modern diatom assemblages compared to pre-industrial assemblages contained higher relative abundances of planktonic diatom taxa (e.g. Asterionella formosa and the Discostella stelligera complex) and lower relative abundances of heavily silicified diatoms (e.g. Aulacoseira taxa) and benthic fragilarioid taxa. These taxonomic shifts are consistent with warming-induced changes in lake properties including a longer ice-free period, decreased wind speed and/or increased thermal stability. We conclude that recent changes observed within the cladoceran assemblages of these lakes are not a response to acidification, but are likely a consequence of Ca declines. In addition, our data suggest that regional climate warming is now responsible for the diatom changes observed in this region.