Biological responses to recent eutrophication and hydrologic changes in Xingyun Lake, southwest China
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The synergistic influence of multiple environmental stressors on lake ecosystems has typically been evaluated paleolimnologically, through examination of a single biological indicator. Aquatic organisms, however, may display heterogeneous responses because of differences in their ecological sensitivity, and/or because of ecological consequences caused by strong interactions among multiple stressors. We applied paleolimnological methods to compare patterns of algal and invertebrate response to multiple stressors in a large, shallow lake in southwest China over the last two centuries. Our multi-proxy records show a clear trajectory of lake eutrophication (greater total nitrogen) and increasing lake productivity (greater sediment Chlorophyll-a concentration) during the last century. Nutrient enrichment and lake productivity played significant, but different roles, in structuring diatom and cladoceran assemblages, accounting for 31.4 and 77.3% of the total variance in the communities, respectively. Furthermore, there was a pronounced influx of the endemic diatom species Cyclotella rhomboideo-elliptica Skuja, which was strongly associated with the second axis of a diatom PCA (Principal Component Analysis). This occurred synchronously with a documented reversal of hydrological connectivity with a downstream, nutrient-poor lake during the early twentieth century, suggesting a role for species dispersal in modulating community reorganization. There are also strong differences between the two organism groups in their sensitivity to hydrological fluctuations, as hydrodynamics, indicated by sand content, was a significant driver for cladocerans (>25%), but showed only minor influence on diatom assemblages in our selection of minimum adequate models. The proportion of the total variance explained by our measured variables (<30%) was much lower for diatom assemblages than for both cladoceran assemblage and accumulation data (~77%), reflecting differences in community reorganization between the two biological indicators. The sediment-based evaluation of community responses revealed the differential impact of eutrophication and hydrological fluctuations on the biota of this large, shallow lake. Therefore, multiple biological indicators should be evaluated in limnological surveys to assess the full scope of ecological changes in highly stressed lake systems targeted for conservation or restoration.