, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 13-38

Diatom-based models for reconstructing past water quality and productivity in New Zealand lakes

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Abstract

The trophic status of lakes in New Zealand is, on average, low compared to more densely populated areas of the globe. Despite this, trends of eutrophication are currently widespread due to recent intensification in agriculture. In order to better identify baseline productivity and establish long-term trends in lake trophic status, diatom-based transfer functions for productivity-related parameters were developed. Water quality data and surface sediment diatom assemblages from 53 lakes across the North and South Islands of New Zealand were analysed to determine species responses to the principal environmental gradients in the data set. Repeat sampling of water chemistry over a 12-month period enabled examination of species responses to annual means as well as means calculated for stratified and mixed periods. Variables found to be most strongly correlated with diatom species distributions were chlorophyll a (Chl a), total phosphorus (TP), dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP), ionic concentration (measured as electrical conductivity (EC)) and pH. These variables were used to develop diatom-based transfer functions using weighted averaging regression and calibration (simple, tolerance down-weighted and with partial least squares algorithm applied). Overall, models derived for stratified means were weaker than those using annual or isothermal means. For specific variables, the models derived for the isothermal mean of EC (WA-tol r 2 jack = 0.79; RMSEP = 0.15 log10 μS cm−1),the annual mean of pH (WA r 2 jack = 0.72; RMSEP = 0.25 pH units) and the isothermal mean of Chl a (WA r 2 jack = 0.71; RMSEP = 0.18 log10 mg m−3 Chl a) performed best. The models derived for TP were weak in comparison (for the annual mean of TP: WA r 2 jack = 0.50; RMSEP = 0.24 log10 mg m−3 TP) and residuals on estimates for this model were correlated with several other water quality variables, suggesting confounding of species responses to TP concentrations. The model derived for the isothermal mean of DRP was relatively strong (WA-tol r 2 jack = 0.78; RMSEP = 0.17 log10 mg m−3 DRP); however, residual values for this model were also found to be strongly correlated with several other water quality variables. It is concluded that the poor performance of the TP and DRP transfer functions relative to that of the Chl a model reflects the coexistence of nitrogen and phosphorus limitation within the lakes in the data set. In spite of this, the suite of transfer functions developed from the training set is regarded as a valuable addition to palaeolimnological studies in NewZealand.