The contribution of epipelon to total sediment microalgae in a shallow temperate eutrophic loch (Loch Leven, Scotland)
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- Spears, B.M., Carvalho, L., Perkins, R. et al. Hydrobiologia (2010) 646: 281. doi:10.1007/s10750-010-0187-x
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Benthic microalgae are known to perform important ecosystem functions in shallow lakes. As such it is important to understand the environmental variables responsible for regulating community structure, positioning and biomass. We tested the hypothesis that the positioning (across a depth gradient of 2–22 m overlying water depth) and relative biomass (determined using bulk and lens tissue harvested chlorophyll (Chl) a concentrations) of the epipelon community would vary independently with season (12 monthly samples) and across natural gradients of light and habitat disturbance relative to the total benthic algal community (i.e. all viable microalgae in the surface sediments) in a shallow eutrophic loch. Total sediment microalgal Chl a concentrations (TS-Chl; range: 5–874 μg Chl a g−1 dw) were highest in winter and in the deepest site (20 m overlying water depth), apparently as a result of phytoplanktonic settling and sediment focussing processes. Epipelic Chl a concentrations (Epi-Chl; range: <0.10–6.0 μg Chl a g−1 dw) were highest in winter/spring, a period when water clarity was highest and TS-Chl lowest. Principal components analysis highlighted strong associations between Epi-Chl and sites of intermediate depths (2.5–5.5 m) in all seasons except autumn/winter. Autumn/winter represented the season with the highest average wind speeds preceding sampling, during which the highest Epi-Chl concentrations were associated with the deepest sites. Epi-Chl was associated with intermediate light and habitat disturbance during spring/summer and summer/autumn and varied positively with habitat disturbance, only, in autumn/winter and winter/spring. The epipelon community structure also varied with depth; diatoms dominated shallow water sediments, cyanobacteria dominated deep water sediments, and sediments at sites of intermediate depth returned the highest biovolume estimates and the most diverse communities. This study has strengthened the hypothesis that the structure and biomass of benthic microalgal communities in lakes are regulated by habitat disturbance and water clarity, both of which are expected to respond to climate change and eutrophication. The degree to which these structural responses reflect functional performance requires clarification.