Asynchronous onset of eutrophication among shallow prairie lakes of the Northern Great Plains, Alberta, Canada

Heather Maheaux, Peter R. Leavitt, Leland J. Jackson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Coherent timing of agricultural expansion, fertilizer application, atmospheric nutrient deposition, and accelerated global warming is expected to promote synchronous fertilization of regional surface waters and coherent development of algal blooms and lake eutrophication. While broad-scale cyanobacterial expansion is evident in global meta-analyses, little is known of whether lakes in discrete catchments within a common lake district also exhibit coherent water quality degradation through anthropogenic forcing. Consequently, the primary goal of this study was to determine whether agricultural development since ca. 1900, accelerated use of fertilizer since 1960, atmospheric deposition of reactive N, or regional climate warming has resulted in coherent patterns of eutrophication of surface waters in southern Alberta, Canada. Unexpectedly, analysis of sedimentary pigments as an index of changes in total algal abundance since ca. 1850 revealed that while total algal abundance (as β-carotene, pheophytin a) increased in nine of 10 lakes over 150 years, the onset of eutrophication varied by a century and was asynchronous across basins. Similarly, analysis of temporal sequences with least-squares regression revealed that the relative abundance of cyanobacteria (echinenone) either decreased or did not change significantly in eight of the lakes since ca. 1850, whereas purple sulfur bacteria (as okenone) increased significantly in seven study sites. These patterns are consistent with the catchment filter hypothesis, which posits that lakes exhibit unique responses to common forcing associated with the influx of mass as water, nutrients, or particles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-283
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number1
Early online date27 Aug 2015
Publication statusEarly online date - 27 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropocene
  • Climate
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Eutrophication
  • Great Acceleration
  • Lake
  • Land use
  • Prairies
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)

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