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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Phytoplankton biomass in northern lakes reveals a complex response to global change

Paltsev, Aleksey; Bergstrom, Ann-Kristin; Vuorio, Kristiina; Creed, Irena F.; Hessen, Dag Olav; Kortelainen, Pirkko; Vuorenmaa, Jussi; Wit, Heleen A. de; Lau, Danny C. P.; Vrede, Tobias; Isles, Peter D. F.; Jonsson, Anders; Geibrink, Erik; Kahilainen, Kimmo K.; Drakare, Stina


Global change may introduce fundamental alterations in phytoplankton biomass and community structure that can alter the productivity of northern lakes. In this study, we utilized Swedish and Finnish monitoring data from lakes that are spatially (135 lakes) and temporally (1995-2019, 110 lakes) extensive to assess how phytoplankton biomass (PB) of dominant phytoplankton groups related to changes in water temperature, pH and key nutrients [total phosphorus (TP), total nitrogen (TN), total organic carbon (TOC), iron (Fe)] along spatial (Fennoscandia) and temporal (25 years) gradients. Using a machine learning approach, we found that TP was the most important determinant of total PB and biomass of a specific species of Raphidophyceae - Gonyostomum semen - and Cyanobacteria (both typically with adverse impacts on food-webs and water quality) in spatial analyses, while Fe and pH were second in importance for G. semen and TN and pH were second and third in importance for Cyanobacteria. However, in temporal analyses, decreasing Fe and increasing pH and TOC were associated with a decrease in G. semen and an increase in Cyanobacteria. In addition, in many lakes increasing TOC seemed to have generated browning to an extent that significantly reduced PB. The identified discrepancy between the spatial and temporal results suggests that substitutions of data for space-for-time may not be adequate to characterize long-term effects of global change on phytoplankton. Further, we found that total PB exhibited contrasting temporal trends (increasing in northern- and decreasing in southern Fennoscandia), with the decline in total PB being more pronounced than the increase. Among phytoplankton, G. semen biomass showed the strongest decline, while cyanobacterial biomass showed the strongest increase over 25 years. Our findings suggest that progressing browning and changes in Fe and pH promote significant temporal changes in PB and shifts in phytoplankton community structures in northern lakes.


Lakes; Spatial; Global change; Phytoplankton

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2024, Volume: 940, article number: 173570
Publisher: ELSEVIER