, Volume 468, Issue 1–3, pp 107–121 | Cite as

Determining trophic state in Lake Whatcom, Washington (USA), a soft water lake exhibiting seasonal nitrogen limitation

  • R. Matthews
  • M. Hilles
  • G. Pelletier


We evaluated an eleven year data set to assess trophic state and nutrient limitation in Lake Whatcom, an oligotrophic, soft water, chain lake located in the Puget Sound lowlands of Washington (U.S.A.). Although total phosphorus (TP) and soluble reactive phosphate (SRP) concentrations were relatively low throughout the lake, there were significant differences between the northern basin (Site 1) and the other sampling sites (Sites 2–4). Nonparametric correlation coefficients (Kendall's τβ) were highest between chlorophyll (CHL), Secchi depth (SD), total nitrogen (TN), and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN). Late summer algal biomass correlated best with DIN and TP. Trophic State Indices based on TP, TN, CHL and SD revealed that although algal growth was most likely phosphorus limited throughout the year, the northern basin of the lake may have developed nitrogen co-limitation during late summer and fall. During this period, N/P ratios were often less than 20, and in 1998 the epilimnetic DIN concentrations dropped below 20 μg l−1 while DIN/TP ratios fell below 4. Reviews of the literature suggest that while co-limitation by phosphorus and nitrogen is fairly common in unproductive lakes, the patterns seen in Lake Whatcom were more similar to those reported for eutrophic lakes experiencing secondary nitrogen limitation resulting from excess phosphorus loading.

lake trophic state nitrogen limitation N/P ratios 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Matthews
    • 1
  • M. Hilles
    • 1
  • G. Pelletier
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Watershed Studies, Huxley College of Environmental StudiesWestern Washington UniversityBellinghamU.S.A.
  2. 2.Washington State Department of EcologyOlympiaU.S.A.

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