6708 PB Wageningen
Dr. Suzanne McGowan
I combine limnology and palaeolimnology (the use of lake sediment cores to investigate past environments) to understand aquatic ecosystems. I use long-term studies to investigate how environmental problems such as nutrient pollution, climate change and hydrological manipulations have changed lakes and aquatic biota. Combining long-term monitoring, palaeolimnology and experimental studies provides integrated insights into ecosystem functioning. I am an expert in the use of chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments as bioindicators of algae and phototrophic bacteria. Such approaches are particularly informative for tracking past dynamics of cyanobacterial blooms. I have developed and applied the use of pigment proxies in sediment cores to investigate long-term changes across a very broad range of systems spanning six continents and also frequently work with other sedimentary proxies such as diatoms and stable isotopes. I am interested in pushing the capabilities of palaeolimnology beyond descriptions and quantifications of environmental change towards its use as a tool for understanding mechanisms. Landscape-scale comparisons of multiple sediment cores can help to distinguish how local versus regional stressors interact to alter the trajectory of lake ecosystem development. Comparisons of socio-economic data and sedimentary archives can help to understand linkages in socioecological systems.
Water quality of floodplain lakes in the Yangtze region which supports ca. 450 million people is being severely compromised by nutrient pollution, climate change and dam installation resulting from intensive socio-economic development. However, due to a lack of long-term monitoring data, the onset and causes of ecosystem degradation are unclear. Here, we used chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments in dated sediment cores from six lakes spanning the region to reconstruct changes in algae and cyanobacterial HAB (harmful algal bloom) taxa alongside sedimentary nutrient flux measurements and historical archives. Sedimentary N fluxes are linked to changes in agriculture, while urbanization has had greater influences on P fluxes. Over the last 70 years algal and N2-fixing HAB pigments increased markedly in lakes (Luhu, Wanghu) that are strongly influenced by urbanization/industrialization. Algal assemblages in two other lakes (Futou, Honghu) changed gradually and responded primarily to agriculture and associated N fluxes; diazotrophic HAB pigments were absent and the lakes retained macrophyte cover. Local dam installation had no discernible effect on pigment assemblages in three of the four lakes in the past 70 years, but in the two hydrologically-open lakes (Poyang, Dongting), increasing algal production was significantly related to the upstream installation of the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) and to urban/industrial and agricultural stressors. Temperature only influenced phototrophs in the most degraded lakes (Luhu, Wanghu). This spatial and temporal overview identifies that nutrient pollution is the primary regional driver of lake phototrophs, but that diazotrophic HABs are stimulated by P-enriched urban wastewater pollution, and agriculturally-derived N pollution favors non-N2-fixing cyanobacteria. Despite negative effects of the Three Gorges project, free connection to the river appears to help mitigate excess HABs in freely connected lakes. Management thus needs to be tailored appropriately to specific lake conditions and palaeolimnology can be valuable in identifying appropriate strategies.
Carbon cycling in shallow floodplain lakes is complex due to variability in delivery of flood-derived allochthonous organic matter (OM). Human activities have potential to significantly modify the carbon balance of lakes by damming which restricts external OM inputs and via eutrophication which can increase the in-lake production of algae and/or aquatic plants. In order to understand how these human activities influence carbon cycling in shallow floodplain lakes over decadal-centennial timescales, we analysed C/N ratios and δ13C from terrestrial plants, catchment soils, aquatic plants and dated sediment cores from six heavily modified lakes in the middle Yangtze floodplain. Submerged macrophytes (−21.4 ± 4.6 ‰) had higher δ13C than C3 plants from the catchment (−26.6 ± 0.6 ‰) and emergent and floating plants (−26.6 ± 4.0 ‰). Increases in sedimentary chlorophyll a (from primary producers) were associated with a decline in sedimentary δ13C in the severely eutrophic Dongting, Luhu, Wanghu and Poyang Lakes after the 1980s. In contrast, sedimentary δ13C increased in Honghu and Futou Lakes which have abundant submerged macrophytes. The timing and scale of sedimentary δ13C changes indicated stronger responses to eutrophication than damming, with eutrophication responses ranging from a macrophyte proliferation to the dominance of phytoplankton.
The onset of agriculture improved the capacity of ecosystems to produce food, but inadvertently altered other vital ecosystem functions. Plant traits play a central role in determining ecosystem properties, therefore we investigated how the onset of agriculture in Europe changed plant trait composition using 78 pollen records. Using a novel Bayesian approach for reconstructing plant trait composition from pollen records, we provide a robust method that can account for trait variability within pollen types. We estimate an overall four-fold decrease in plant size through agriculture and associated decreases in leaf and seed size. We show an increase in niche space towards the resource-acquisitive end of the leaf economic spectrum. Decreases in leaf phosphorus might have been caused by nutrient depletion through grazing and burning. Our results show that agriculture, from its start, has likely been gradually impacting biogeochemical cycles through altered vegetation composition.
Understanding how lakes respond to changes in nutrient loading along a productivity gradient can help identify key drivers of aquatic change, thereby allowing appropriate mitigation strategies to be developed. Physical, chemical and biological water column measurements combined with long-term water monitoring data for six closely located crater lakes, in Southeast Asia, were compared to assess the response of lakes along a productivity gradient equating to a transect of increasing aquaculture intensity. Increasing chlorophyll a (phytoplankton biomass) in the upper waters appeared to modify the thermocline depth and light availability causing a shift from a deep chlorophyll maximum at low aquaculture intensity to the emergence of algal dead zones lower in the water column with high aquaculture intensity. High phosphorus loading and light limitation from enhanced algal biomass, associated with high aquaculture intensity, exacerbated nitrogen drawdown, leading to the prevalence of potentially nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. Seasonal overturn during the cooler season resulted in low dissolved oxygen concentrations in the epilimnion, potential harmful algal blooms, a reduction in the habitable depth for fish and ultimately increased mortality amongst farmed fish.
Tropical rivers are dynamic CO2 sources. Regional patterns in the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) and relationships with other a/biotic factors in densely populated and rapidly developing river delta regions of Southeast Asia are still poorly constrained. Over one year, at 21 sites across the river system in the Red River Delta (RRD), Vietnam, we calculated pCO2 levels from temperature, pH, and total alkalinity and inter-linkages between pCO2 and phytoplankton, water chemistry and seasonality were then assessed. The smaller, more urbanized, and polluted Day River had an annual median pCO2 of 5000 ± 3300 µatm and the larger Red River of 2675 ± 2271 µatm. pCO2 was 1.6 and 3.2 times higher during the dry season in the Day and Red rivers respectively than the rainy season. Elevated pCO2 levels in the Day River during the dry season were also 2.4-fold higher than the median value (2811 ± 3577 µatm) of calculated and direct pCO2 measurements in >20 sub/tropical rivers. By further categorizing the river data into Hanoi City vs. other less urban-populated provinces, we found significantly higher nutrients, organic matter content, and riverine cyanobacteria during the dry season in the Day River across Hanoi City. Forward selection also identified riverine cyanobacteria and river discharge as the main predictors explaining pCO2 variation in the RRD. After accounting for the shared effects (14%), river discharge alone significantly explained 12% of the pCO2 variation, cyanobacteria uniquely a further 21%, while 53% of the pCO2 variance was unexplained by either. We show that the urbanization of rivers deltas could result in increased sources of riverine pCO2, water pollution, and harmful cyanobacterial blooms. Such risks could be mitigated through water management to increase water flows in problem areas during the dry season.
The dominant processes determining biological structure in lakes at millennial timescales are complex. In this study, we used a multi-proxy approach to determine the relative importance of in-lake versus indirect processes on the Holocene development of an oligotrophic lake in SW Greenland (66.99°N, 50.97°W). A 14C and 210Pb-dated sediment core covering approximately 8500 years BP was analyzed for organic-inorganic carbon content, pigments, diatoms, chironomids, cladocerans, and stable isotopes (δ13C, δ18O). Relationships among the different proxies and a number of independent controlling variables (Holocene temperature, an isotope-inferred cooling period, and immigration of Betula nana into the catchment) were explored using redundancy analysis (RDA) independent of time. The main ecological trajectories in the lake biota were captured by ordination first axis sample scores (18-32% variance explained). The importance of the arrival of Betula (ca. 6500 years BP) into the catchment was indicated by a series of partial-constrained ordinations, uniquely explaining 12-17% of the variance in chironomids and up to 9% in pigments. Climate influences on lake biota were strongest during a short-lived cooling period (identified by altered stable isotopes) early in the development of the lake when all proxies changed rapidly, although only chironomids had a unique component (8% in a partial-RDA) explained by the cooling event. Holocene climate explained less variance than either catchment changes or biotic relationships. The sediment record at this site indicates the importance of catchment factors for lake development, the complexity of community trends even in relatively simple systems (invertebrates are the top predators in the lake) and the challenges of deriving palaeoclimate inferences from sediment records in low-Arctic freshwater lakes.
We used stable isotopes (δ18O and δ2H) and water chemistry to characterize the water balance and hydrolimnological relationships of 57 shallow aquatic basins in the Peace-Athabasca Delta (PAD), northern Alberta, Canada, based on sampling at the end of the 2000 thaw season. Evaporation-to-inflow ratios (E/I) were estimated using an isotope mass-balance model tailored to accommodate basin-specific input water compositions, which provided an effective, first-order, quantitative framework for identifying water balances and associated limnological characteristics spanning three main, previously identified drainage types. Open-drainage basins (E/I < 0.4; n = 5), characterized by low alkalinity, low concentrations of nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and ions, and high minerogenic turbidity, include large, shallow basins that dominate the interior of the PAD and experience frequent or continuous river channel connection. Closed-drainage basins (E/I ≥ 1.0; n = 16), in contrast, possess high alkalinity and high concentrations of nitrogen, DOC, and ions, and low minerogenic turbidity, and are located primarily in the relict and infrequently flooded landscape of the northern Peace sector of the delta. Several basins fall into the restricted-drainage category (0-4 # E/I <1.0; n = 26) with intermediate water chemistries and are predominant in the southern Athabasca sector, which is subject to active fluviodeltaic processes, including intermittent flooding from riverbank overflow. Integration of isotopic and limnological data also revealed evidence for a new fourth drainage type, mainly located near the large open-drainage lakes that occupy the central portion of the delta but within the Athabasca sector (n = 10). These basins were very shallow (<50 cm deep) at the time of sampling and isotopically depleted, corresponding to E/I characteristic of restricted- and open-drainage conditions. However, they are limnologically similar to closed-drainage basins except for higher conductivity and higher concentrations of Ca2+ and Na+, and lower concentrations of SiO2 and chlorophyll c. These distinct features are due to the overriding influence of recent summer rainfall on the basin water balance and chemistry. The close relationships evident between water balances and limnological conditions suggest that past and future changes in hydrology are likely to be coupled with marked alterations in water chemistry and, hence, the ecology of aquatic environments in the PAD.
Shallow lake ecosystems can shift between clear-water, macrophyte-rich conditions and turbid states with abundant phytoplankton. However, little is known about the controls of algal community composition and primary production before, during, and after ecosystem state change, because long time series that monitor biological change through the transition are scarce. Using proxy data sets derived from sediment cores from two shallow hypertrophic lakes in Denmark, variance-partitioning analysis (VPA) was used to determine the relative importance of changes in total phosphorus (diatom inferred), planktivorous fish density (zooplankton inferred), and submerged macrophyte communities (as macrofossil abundance) as determinants of algal abundance and community composition (as sedimentary pigments) over ecosystem state transitions since 1750 (CE) for Lake Lading and 1900 for Lake Søbygaard. Past variation in densities of planktivorous fish explained 12.3% and 18.2% of historical algal community change in lakes Lading and Søbygaard, respectively, while a further 22.3% and 6% of algal variability was explained by variation in macrophyte abundance. Total phosphorus (TP) alone explained nonsignificant amounts of variance (1.5%, 3.6%) but had a significant effect in combination with macrophytes and fish (27%, 13.4%). State transitions occurred ca. 1940 but were preceded by increases in benthic diatoms and macrophytes, suggesting that transitions were gradual rather than instantaneous. In contrast, green, colonial blue-green, and cryptophyte algae were abundant only during turbid states after ca. 1960 and were correlated to changes in planktivorous fish or fish-TP interactions. Contrary to expectations, the shift from predominantly benthic to pelagic algal production represented only a change in habitat and did not result in an increase in total abundance of primary producers.
Insight into the causes and consequences of changes in aquatic biodiversity requires an improved understanding of the nature of the relationships between species richness and ecosystem function over a much longer temporal perspective than we currently possess. We used high-resolution paleoecological records from two prairie lakes to show that diatom species richness (as fossil frustules) was negatively correlated (r2 = 0.09-0.24, p < 0.001) with diatom production (as fossil pigments) during the past 2,000 yr. By comparing analyses from intervals of fresh and saline waters, we demonstrate that these significant richness-production relationships arose during freshwater periods (r 2 = 0.13-0.45, p < 0.001) and could be eliminated (r2 < 0.02, p > 0.1) by abiotic disturbances such as droughts. Procrustes analyses of the concordance of species change within freshwater communities and the change in richness-production relationships through time revealed that shifts in diatom community composition could have a large influence in determining the negative relationship between richness and production. Finally, significant correlations (r2 = 0.09-0.24, p < 0.0001) between past diatom species richness and ratios of stable isotopes (primarily δ15N) suggested that C and N biogeochemical cycles are also linked to changes in algal biodiversity. Taken together, these analyses suggest that the ongoing disruption of climate and biogeochemical systems by humans may obscure the relationship between aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem function in the future.
Recent decades have seen a large increase in surface scums (blooms) of cyanophytes (blue-green algae and blue-green bacteria) in inland waters. These are potentially toxic to mammals, including humans, and have caused considerable public concern in Europe, Australasia, and North America. They are often associated with eutrophication, and much has been invested in their control. Not all blooms, however, are necessarily the results of human interference with lakes. Scattered paleolimnological evidence indicates that some blooms may be associated with pristine conditions, though this message has largely been ignored. Evidence is given here of a long history of blooms in Whitemere, U.K., from extraction and identification of specific carotenoids from dated sediment cores. Whitemere is representative of a large group of lakes in the West Midlands of the U.K. and is likely to be representative also of those similar postglacial kettle hole lakes in North America and Eurasia, which are groundwater fed with long retention times and thermally stratified. Blue-green blooms may thus be a normal feature of such lakes and not necessarily a pathology to be controlled.