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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Ecological Memory of Historical Contamination Influences the Response of Phytoplankton Communities

Baho, Didier L.; Rizzuto, Simone; Nizzetto, Luca; Hessen, Dag O.; Norberg, Jon; Skjelbred, Birger; Jones, Kevin C.; Zhang, Hao; Leu, Eva


Ecological memory (EM) recognizes the importance of previous stress encounters in promoting community tolerance and thereby enhances ecosystem stability, provided that gained tolerances are preserved during non-stress periods. Drawing from this concept, we hypothesized that the recruitment of tolerant species can be facilitated by imposing an initial sorting process (conditioning) during the early stages of community assembly, which should result in higher production (biomass development and photosynthetic efficiency) and stable community composition. To test this, phytoplankton resting stages were germinated from lake sediments originating from two catchments that differed in contamination history: one impacted by long-term herbicides and pesticides exposures (historically contaminated lake) from an agricultural catchment compared to a low-impacted one (near-pristine lake) from a forested catchment. Conditioning was achieved by adding an herbicide (Isoproturon, which was commonly used in the catchment of the historically contaminated lake) during germination. Afterward, the communities obtained from germination were exposed to an increasing gradient of Isoproturon. As hypothesized, upon conditioning, the phytoplankton assemblages from the historically contaminated lake were able to rapidly restore photosynthetic efficiency (p > 0.01) and became structurally (community composition) more resistant to Isoproturon. The communities of the near-pristine lake did not yield these positive effects regardless of conditioning, supporting that EM was a unique attribute of the historically stressed ecosystem. Moreover, assemblages that displayed higher structural resistance concurrently yielded lower biomass, indicating that benefits of EM in increasing structural stability may trade-off with production. Our results clearly indicate that EM can foster ecosystem stability to a recurring stressor.


Ecological memory; Phytoplankton communities; Stability; Recurrent stressor; Community tolerance; Trade-off

Published in

2021, volume: 24, number: 7, pages: 1591-1607
Publisher: SPRINGER

Authors' information

Baho, Didier Ludovic
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Baho, Didier L. (Baho, Didier L.)
Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Rizzuto, Simone
Lancaster University
Nizzetto, Luca
Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Hessen, Dag O.
University of Oslo
Norberg, Jon
Stockholm University
Skjelbred, Birger
Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Jones, Kevin C.
Lancaster University
Zhang, Hao
Lancaster University
Leu, Eva
Centre for Interdisiplinary Environmental and Social Research (CIENS)

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