, Volume 648, Issue 1, pp 3-18

Ecological changes in the highest temporary pond of western Crete (Greece): past, present and future

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This study explores the past, present and future ecological changes in the highest Mediterranean temporary pond (Omalos pond) in western Crete, Greece. Data from downcore pollen analysis (including pollen and spores from both aquatic vegetation, and terrestrial herbaceous, arboreal and shrub vegetation), modern vegetation monitoring and existing climate scenarios have been combined to provide a picture of the ecological changes in the pond over the last 13,600 years. Downcore pollen analysis throughout the last 13,600 years indicated the presence of species typical of Mediterranean Temporary Pond (MTP) habitats and suggested relatively drier conditions towards the present. The low number of non-native, cultivated species (such as herbaceous Trifolium and Plantago species) observed over this period suggested relatively low impact from crop agriculture, despite the increasing grazing pressure in the area. In the absence of independent proxies, we cannot reliably distinguish between natural and human-induced changes. The presence of aquatic Isoetes in the palaeo-record indicates the existence of an ephemeral pond in the area as early as the beginning of the Holocene suggesting resilience of the ecosystem over time. However, the degraded state of pollen in depths over 55 cm (i.e. 3600 year BP) increases the uncertainty of the interpretation. Currently, the pond holds 76 plant species belonging to 25 families. Therophytes and chamaephytes were the most frequent, suggesting a typical ephemeral habitat life form spectrum. Species richness was found to increase during spring surveys whereas the highest turnover was observed between summer surveys of consecutive years. Cluster analysis demonstrated a distinct zonation in four vegetation belts from the periphery to the centre of the pond which is typical of these environments. Modelling, based on two IPPC scenarios (A2 and B2), predicted relatively low climate change impacts on the pond’s hydroperiod for the next 100 years (i.e. a decrease of 16 and 24 days, respectively). This reduction in the hydroperiod of the pond will have an effect on the physiognomy and spatial extent of vegetation, particularly for the transitional belts between the core and its outer area, while it will exert more pressure on the pond as a water resource for sheep in the region. However, cumulative effects and complex interactions of climate-driven environmental changes and other anthropogenic disturbances might act synergistically to accelerate impacts in the future.

Guest editors: Hilde Eggermont, Martin Kernan & Koen Martens / Global change impacts on mountain lakes