Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 469–488 | Cite as

The use of diatom records to establish reference conditions for UK lakes subject to eutrophication

  • Helen BennionEmail author
  • Gavin L. Simpson
Original paper


A knowledge of pre-disturbance conditions is important for setting realistic restoration targets for lakes. For European waters this is now a requirement of the European Council Water Framework Directive where ecological status must be assessed based on the degree to which present day conditions deviate from reference conditions. Here, we employ palaeolimnological techniques, principally inferences of total phosphorus from diatom assemblages (DI-TP) and classification of diatom composition data from the time slice in sediment cores dated to ~1850 AD, to define chemical and ecological reference conditions, respectively, for a range of UK lake types. The DI-TP results from 169 sites indicate that reference TP values for low alkalinity lakes are typically <10 μg L−1 and in many cases <5 μg L−1, whilst those for medium and high alkalinity lakes are in the range 10–30 and 20–40 μg L−1, respectively. Within the latter two alkalinity types, the deeper waters (>3 m mean depth) generally had lower reference TP concentrations than the shallow sites. A small group of shallow marl lakes had concentrations of ~30 μg L−1. Cluster analysis of diatom composition data from 106 lakes where the key pressure of interest was eutrophication identified three clusters, each associated with particular lake types, suggesting that the typology has ecological relevance, although poor cross matching of the diatom groups and the lake typology at type boundaries highlights the value of a site-specific approach to defining reference conditions. Finally the floristic difference between the reference and present day (surface sample) diatom assemblages of each site was estimated using the squared chord distance dissimilarity coefficient. Only 25 of the 106 lakes experienced insignificant change and the findings indicate that eutrophication has impacted all lake types with >50% of sites exhibiting significant floristic change. The study illustrates the role of the sediment record in determining both chemical and ecological reference conditions, and assessing deviation from the latter. Whilst restoration targets may require modification in the future to account for climate induced alterations, the long temporal perspective offered by palaeolimnology ensures that such changes are assessed against a sound baseline.


Diatoms Eutrophication Palaeolimnology Phosphorus Reference conditions Water Framework Directive 



This paper was written with support from the European Union (FP6 Integrated Project ‘Euro-limpacs: European project to evaluate impacts of global change on freshwater ecosystems’ GOCE-CT-2003-505540) and the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER, project number WFD08). We are grateful to the reviewers for their valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Environmental Change Research CentreUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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