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Research article2010Peer reviewedOpen access

Tracing recovery under changing climate: response of phytoplankton and invertebrate assemblages to decreased acidification

Johnson, Richard; Angeler, David


Phytoplankton and littoral invertebrate assemblages in 4 boreal lakes recovering from acidification and 4 minimally disturbed reference lakes studied over 2 decades were used to determine the pathways and trajectories of change under the influence of climatic variability. Assemblage composition (species presence absence data) but not dominance patterns (invertebrate abundance/phytoplankton biovolume) of acidified lakes became more similar to those of reference lakes (distance decreased with time), indicating that detection of recovery varies as a function of chosen metrics. Acidified lakes had more pronounced shifts in assemblage composition than did reference lakes. The most marked differences were noted for phytoplankton assemblages. Assemblages in acidified lakes had mean between-year Euclidean distances almost 2X greater than those of assemblages in reference lakes. Trends in water chemistry showed unequivocal recovery, but responses of phytoplankton and invertebrate assemblages, measured as between-year shifts in assemblage composition, were correlated with interannual variability in climate (e.g., North Atlantic Oscillation, water temperature) in addition to decreased acidity. The finding that recovery pathways and trajectories of individual acidified lakes and the environmental drivers explaining these changes differed among assemblages shows that biological recovery is complex and the influence of climatic variability is poorly understood.


acidification; recovery; phytoplankton; benthic invertebrates; monitoring; boreal lakes; climate

Published in

Journal of the North American Benthological Society
2010, Volume: 29, number: 4, pages: 1472-1490