Frequent regime shifts in trophic states in shallow lakes on the Boreal Plain: Alternative "unstable" states?
Limnol. Oceanogr., 52(5), 2007, 2002-2012 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.5.2002
ABSTRACT: Shallow lakes are known to exhibit alternative states in their biotic structure. Lakes dominated by submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) are clear, while lakes dominated by algae (high concentrations of chlorophyll a [Chl a]) are turbid. The roles of total phosphorus (TP) and SAV in defining these alternative states were examined for up to 6 yr in 24 naturally eutrophic shallow lakes (12.4-670.4 µg TP L-1) with variable SAV cover (0-100%) on the western Boreal Plain in Alberta, Canada. Clear lakes had <18 mg Chl a L-1. Sixty-seven percent of lakes were clear in any given year, but individual lakes did not remain clear over consecutive years. While 29% did not switch, 71% of lakes were unstable, with 57% switching states once and 14% switching more than once. To increase the temporal and spatial scale of analysis, we used Landsat Thematic Mapper satellite imagery (1984- 2003) to classify clarity for up to 20 yr in 82 naturally eutrophic shallow lakes. Approximately 80% of lakes were unstable, with 7% switching once and more than 73% switching 2-9 times. Only 20% of lakes were stable and clear. Switches in lake clarity were related to TP but were also dependent on the abundance of SAV. For lakes with high SAV, the TP threshold for the transition from clear to turbid was 275 µg TP L-1, while for lakes with low SAV, the TP threshold was 50 µg TP L-1. Given the harsh winter conditions, including lakes with ice depths of up to 0.7 m and anoxia leading to winterkill of aquatic communities, these systems are strongly abiotically regulated and lack mechanisms that maintain a lake in a stable state.