Assessing the degree of ecological change and baselines for reservoirs: challenges and implications for management

  • Simone WengratEmail author
  • Helen Bennion
  • Paulo Alves de Lima Ferreira
  • Rubens Cesar Lopes Figueira
  • Denise C. Bicudo
Original paper


Tropical reservoirs are sensitive to eutrophication but long-term impacts of impoundment on their productivity and biota are poorly understood. Here, we employ a palaeolimnological approach to assess whether ecological baselines can be defined for reservoirs, and examine the challenges and management implications. We studied the environmental history of five reservoirs in Brazil with different productivities, using sediment records covering the period since reservoir construction (~ 50–90 years). Our main goals, based on the analysis of organic geochemistry (TOC, TN, TP, C:N), stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N), and diatoms, were to reconstruct and compare the magnitude of environmental changes, to determine the conditions prior to any eutrophication and discuss the implications for reservoir management. We inferred that Ribeirão do Campo reservoir has remained oligotrophic since its construction, Itupararanga and Paineiras have both remained mesotrophic with an improvement in water quality around 1970, and Salto Grande has been eutrophic since its construction in 1949. In Rio Grande reservoir, which was originally oligotrophic, eutrophication began in the 1950s, with a slight improvement in water quality after its separation from Billings Reservoir, followed by a subsequent decline in quality since ~ 2001. We found that the studied reservoirs have unique environmental histories and there are clearly challenges associated with defining ecological baselines for reservoirs against which the extent of degradation can be assessed. Nonetheless, when the data from all reservoirs were compared, a coherent pattern in the diatom assemblages emerged, reflecting the trophic gradient. The diatom assemblages prior to enrichment were composed of two groups. The oligotrophic baseline was characterized by several benthic species with low abundances, mainly Eunotia and Brachysira, while in three reservoirs the early assemblages were characterized by planktonic taxa associated with mesotrophic conditions, namely planktonic species Aulacoseira ambigua, Aulacoseira tenella, Discostella stelligera, and Spicaticriba rudis. This work provides information on the baseline conditions, the natural variability of non-degraded reservoirs, and the degree of ecological change in degraded ecosystems. This study contributes to an improved understanding of the timing and extent of eutrophication in these systems and provides information to help better inform the management of tropical reservoirs vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures.


Diatoms Eutrophication Stable isotopes Squared chord distance 



This study was funded by FAPESP (nº 2009/03950-4) and CNPq (nº 140550/2012-7) as part of SW thesis at the Instituto de Botânica, São Paulo, Brazil; Acquased Project (FAPESP nº 2009/53898–9) and CNPq for DCB (nº 310404/2016). The authors also thank MSc. William de Queiroz (Universidade de Guarulhos) for providing the illustration of the study area, to all the students and technicians from the Institute of Botany involved in field and laboratory work, as well as SABESP for their support with sampling.

Supplementary material

10933_2019_90_MOESM1_ESM.docx (50 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 49 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de EcologiaInstituto de BotânicaSão PauloBrazil
  2. 2.Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of GeographyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Oceanographic Institute of São Paulo UniversitySão PauloBrazil
  4. 4.Department of BiologyLimnological Institute, University of KonstanzKonstanzGermany

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