Challenges in Defining Critical Loads for Nitrogen in UK Lakes

  • Chris J. Curtis
  • Gavin L. Simpson
  • Rick W. Battarbee
  • Stephen Maberly
Chapter

Abstract

It is now widely recognised that the deposition of nitrogen (N) compounds can lead to both acidification and eutrophication impacts in upland lakes. While major reductions in sulphur (S) emissions and deposition in the UK have been largely matched by chemical recovery from acidification in surface waters, reductions in emissions of N compounds have not been matched by corresponding reductions in deposition. Here we explore two related issues in the use of critical loads for N in upland waters:

  1. 1.

    Identifying potential impacts of nutrient N in naturally nutrient poor systems of conservation importance and links to biodiversity, and

     
  2. 2.

    Problems in defining critical chemical limits with respect to reference conditions in upland lakes.

     

Empirical critical loads for nutrient N have been recommended to protect macrophyte communities of shallow softwater lakes in Europe. The recommended range of 5–10 kg N ha−1 year−1 is exceeded across most of the UK, but most oligotrophic lakes are of a different habitat type to those for which empirical critical loads have been recommended. Furthermore, while there is widespread evidence from nutrient bioassay work for N limitation of phytoplankton production in oligotrophic lakes there is little direct evidence to date of impacts on other biological groups in the UK, including macrophytes. A major problem is the lack of data on reference communities in unimpacted lakes and lack of identified “harmful ecological effects” required by the definition of critical loads. There are also fundamental differences in approach between the critical loads employed under the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol and the EU Water Framework Directive. We show that there are major challenges in application of critical loads for nutrient N which must be overcome if we are to protect designated sites of conservation interest and maintain, or allow recovery to, the good ecological status required by the EU Water Framework Directive.

Keywords

Acidification Eutrophication Nitrogen deposition Nitrogen limitation Phytoplankton 

References

  1. Achermann, B., & Bobbink, R. (Eds.). (2003). Empirical critical loads for nitrogen. Environmental documentation no. 164. Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape (SAEFL). Berne, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron, J. S., Rueth, H. M., Wolfe, A. M., Nydick, K. R., Allstott, E. J., Minear, J. T., & Moraska, B. (2000). Ecosystem responses to nitrogen deposition in the Colorado Front Range. Ecosystems, 3, 352–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergström, A.-K., & Jansson, M. (2006). Atmospheric nitrogen deposition has caused nitrogen enrichment and eutrophication of lakes in the northern hemisphere. Global Change Biology, 12, 635–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bobbink, R., Hornung, M., & Roelofs, J. G. M. (1998). The effects of air-borne nitrogen pollutants on species diversity in natural and semi-natural European vegetation. Journal of Ecology, 86, 717–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Curtis, C. J., Evans, C., Helliwell, R. C., & Monteith, D. (2005). Nitrate leaching as a confounding factor in chemical recovery from acidification in UK upland waters. Environmental Pollution, 137, 73–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Curtis, C., & Simpson, G. (Eds.). (2007). Freshwater umbrella-the effects of nitrogen deposition and climate change on freshwaters in the UK. ECRC Research Report No. 115, University College London, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Fenn, M. E., Baron, J. S., Allen, E. B., Rueth, H. M., Nydick, K. R., Geiser, L., Bowman, W. D., Sickman, J. O., Meixner, T., Johnson, D. W., & Neitlich, P. (2003). Ecological effects of nitrogen deposition in the western United States. Bioscience, 53, 404–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jansson, M., Blomqvist, P., Jonsson, A., & Bergstrom, A.-K. (1996). Nutrient limitation of bacterioplankton, autotrophic and mixotrophic phytoplankton and heterotrophic nanoflagellates in Lake Ortrasket. Limnology and Oceanography, 41, 1552–1559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kernan, M., Battarbee, R. W., Curtis, C. J., Monteith, D. T., & Shilland, E. M. (Eds.). (2010). UK Acid Waters Monitoring Network 20 Year Interpretive Report. ECRC Research Report 141. ECRC, University College London, LondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Lien, L., Raddum, G. G., Fjellheim, A., & Henriksen, A. (1996). A critical limit for acid neutralizing capacity in Norwegian surface waters, based on new analyses of fish and invertebrate responses. The Science of the Total Environment, 177, 173–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Maberly, S. C., King, L., Dent, M. M., Jones, R. I., & Gibson, C. E. (2002). Nutrient limitation of phytoplankton and periphyton growth in upland lakes. Freshwater Biology, 47, 2136–2152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nilsson, J., & Grennfelt, P. (Eds.). (1988). Critical loads for sulphur and nitrogen. UNECE/Nordic Council workshop report, Skokloster, Sweden, 19–24 March, 1988. Miljørapport 1988:15. Nordic Council of Ministers, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  13. Posch, M., Kämäri, J., Forsius, M., Henriksen, A., & Wilander, A. (1997). Environmental auditing. Exceedance of critical loads for lakes in Finland, Norway and Sweden: Reduction requirements for acidifying sulphur and nitrogen deposition. Environmental Management, 21, 291–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Sickman, J. O., Melack, J. M., & Clow, D. W. (2003). Evidence for nutrient enrichment of high-elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada, California. Limnology and Oceanography, 48, 1885–1892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Smol, J. P., Wolfe, A. P., Birks, H. J. B., Douglas, M. S. V., Jones, V. J., Korhola, A., Pienitz, R., Rühland, K., Sorvari, S., Antoniades, D., Brooks, S. J., Fallu, M.-A., Hughes, M., Keatley, B. E., Laing, T. E., Michelutti, N., Nazarova, L., Nyman, M., Paterson, A. M., Perren, B., Quinlan, R., Rautio, M., Saulnier-Talbot, E., Siitonen, S., Solovieva, N., & Weckström, J. (2005). Climate-drive regime shifts in the biological communities of arctic lakes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 4397–4402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Wolfe, A. P., Baron, J. S., & Cornett, R. J. (2001). Anthropogenic nitrogen deposition induces rapid ecological change in alpine lakes of the Colorado Front Range (USA). Journal of Paleolimnology, 25, 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris J. Curtis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gavin L. Simpson
    • 1
  • Rick W. Battarbee
    • 1
  • Stephen Maberly
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Change Research Centre, Geography DepartmentUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  3. 3.Centre for Ecology and HydrologyLancaster Environment CentreBailriggUK

Personalised recommendations