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Spatial and Temporal Variability in the Ecosystem Metabolism of a High-elevation Lake: Integrating Benthic and Pelagic Habitats

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Abstract

We characterized spatial and temporal variability in net ecosystem production (NEP), community respiration (CR), and gross primary production (GPP) over an ice-free season in an oligotrophic high-elevation lake using high-frequency measurements of dissolved oxygen. We combined the use of free-water and incubation chamber measurements to compare pelagic and benthic habitats and estimate their relative contributions to whole-lake metabolism. Despite a brief period of predominant heterotrophy after snowmelt, both free-water and incubation chamber measurements confirmed autotrophy of the epilimnion in all habitats throughout the ice-free season. In contrast, benthic incubation chambers showed the benthos to be consistently heterotrophic. Although temperature was the strongest seasonal driver of benthic metabolism, bacterioplankton density and indexes of organic matter quality explained the most variability in pelagic metabolism. Driven largely by benthic metabolism, free-water measurements of GPP and CR were twice as high in littoral than pelagic habitats. However, rates of water column primary production overlying the littoral benthos were high enough to overcome net benthic heterotrophy, and seasonal mean NEP in littoral habitats remained positive and not significantly different from pelagic habitats. Benthic rates averaged about 25% of whole-lake metabolism. Pelagic metabolism measurements were affected by littoral rates about half the time, with the degree of isolation between the two a function of advection and water column stability. These results emphasize the importance of characterizing spatial and temporal variability in metabolism within the context of physical dynamics and challenge the notion that benthic metabolism will necessarily be larger than pelagic metabolism in oligotrophic lakes.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Kevin Skeen for field assistance. Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park provided administrative support of for this research. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (to SS) and through Division of Environmental Biology awards 0614207 (to JMM) and 0640953 (to SM). The comments of Craig Nelson, Michael Pace, and two anonymous reviewers helped improve this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Steven Sadro.

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Sadro conceived the study, performed the research, analyzed the data, contributed models used in the analysis, and wrote the MS; Melack contributed to the study design, contributed to the methods, and edited the MS; MacIntyre contributed models used in the analysis and edited the MS.

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Sadro, S., Melack, J.M. & MacIntyre, S. Spatial and Temporal Variability in the Ecosystem Metabolism of a High-elevation Lake: Integrating Benthic and Pelagic Habitats. Ecosystems 14, 1123–1140 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-011-9471-5

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