Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 171–184 | Cite as

Sedimentary pigments as indicators of cyanobacterial dynamics in a hypereutrophic lake

  • Bethany N. DeshpandeEmail author
  • Roxane Tremblay
  • Reinhard Pienitz
  • Warwick F. Vincent
Original paper


Lac Saint-Augustin is an urban lake located on the outskirts of Quebec City, one of North America’s oldest cities. Anthropogenic inputs from land clearing, agriculture, highway development and urbanization in the surrounding catchment have resulted in strong impacts on the limnology of the lake throughout the past three centuries. In recent years, this lake has experienced severe eutrophication, including persistent cyanobacterial blooms. In winter 2011, a sediment core was extracted from the deepest area of the lake. A detailed paleopigment analysis was used to assess eutrophication processes in the lake and to determine the timing and appearance of cyanobacterial blooms and their subsequent variability. Extracted chlorophyll a, its degradation products and 11 carotenoid pigments were identified and quantified via reverse-phase high performance liquid chromatography to examine relative changes in the phytoplankton. The results revealed large variations in the phytoplankton community structure of Lac Saint-Augustin over the past 356 years. Chlorophyll a concentrations per unit organic matter (OM) increased significantly from the base of the core to present day, rising more than 15-fold from 18.4 µg (g OM)−1 at the base of the core to 287 µg (g OM)−1 in the most recent strata. Biostratigraphical analysis revealed three major periods of enrichment, with episodes of cyanobacterial abundance from the 1890s onwards. The greatest changes occurred in the most recent period (from the 1960s to the present) relative to earlier periods, with pigment increases for all phytoplankton groups. The cyanobacterial pigments canthaxanthin, echinenone and zeaxanthin (also a marker for green algae) showed concentrations in the surface sediments that were significantly above values at the bottom of the core, and these differences were large, even giving consideration to the lesser pigment degradation near the surface. Overall, the results indicate that cyanobacterial blooms are not a recent feature of Lac Saint-Augustin but began to occur soon after catchment modification 150 years ago. The pigment records also imply that cyanobacterial and associated algal populations have risen to unprecedented levels over the last few decades of ongoing development of the Lac Saint-Augustin catchment. This study highlights the utility of multiple pigment analysis of lake sediments for identifying the timing and magnitude of anthropogenic impacts.


Pigments Cyanobacteria Eutrophication Phytoplankton Urban lake Human impacts 



This study was funded by NSERC (Ottawa, Canada), the Canada Research Chair program, CIMA+, and FRQNT through the Centre d’études nordiques (CEN). We thank R. Galvez and D. Jobin for their support with sediment sampling, M.-J. Martineau for laboratory assistance in preparing and analysing samples, and D. Antoniades and M. Lionard for advice on protocols.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bethany N. Deshpande
    • 1
    Email author
  • Roxane Tremblay
    • 2
  • Reinhard Pienitz
    • 2
  • Warwick F. Vincent
    • 1
  1. 1.Département de biologie, Centre d’Études Nordiques (CEN)Université LavalQuebecCanada
  2. 2.Aquatic Paleoecology Laboratory, Département de géographie, Centre d’Études Nordiques (CEN)Université LavalQuebecCanada

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