, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 807-819
Date: 26 Jun 2009

Hydrology-Driven Regime Shifts in a Shallow Tropical Lake

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Abstract

Shifts between alternative stable states have become a focus of research in temperate shallow lakes. Here we show that sharp transitions between a clear, macrophyte-dominated state and a turbid state without submerged plants can also occur in tropical floodplain lakes, albeit driven by a largely different set of mechanisms. We show how a shallow lake in the Pantanal becomes covered by an exploding population of the submerged macrophyte Egeria najas Planchon as the water level rises during the annual high-water period. Water clarity increases spectacularly in this period due to flushing with river water that has lost most of its suspended matter during its slow flow over the flooded vegetated plains. A few months later when the water level drops again, the submerged plant beds die and decompose rapidly, triggering a phase of increasing turbidity. During this period an increase in dissolved organic matter, suspended matter, and phytoplankton biomass results in a sharp deterioration in water clarity. The concomitant water level decrease largely counteracts the effects on the underwater light climate, so that the amount of light at the bottom may not differ in comparison with the high-water period. Therefore, changes in light climate seem unlikely to be the sole driver of the vegetation shifts, and other mechanisms may prevent recovery of the submerged vegetation until the next high-water episode. Also, contrary to what is found in temperate lakes, there is no evidence for top-down control of phytoplankton biomass associated with the macrophyte-dominated state in our tropical lake.

Author Contributions

Simoni Maria Loverde-Oliveira, Vera Lúcia Moraes Huszar—conceived the study, Simoni Maria Loverde-Oliveira—performed research and analyzed data, Simoni Maria Loverde-Oliveira, Vera Lúcia Moraes Huszar, Nestor Mazzeo, Marten Scheffer—wrote the paper.