Regional climate changes drive increased scaled-chrysophyte abundance in lakes downwind of Athabasca Oil Sands nitrogen emissions

Graham R. Mushet*, Kathleen R. Laird, Biplob Das, Brittany Hesjedal, Peter R. Leavitt, Kenneth A. Scott, Gavin L. Simpson, Björn Wissel, Jared D. Wolfe, Brian F. Cumming

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
174 Downloads (Pure)


Several limnological and paleolimnological investigations have linked enhanced atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition to nutrient enrichment and increased primary production. The Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) in northeast Alberta, Canada is a significant source of N emissions, particularly since development intensified during the 1990s, and recent paleolimnological investigations provide evidence of increased lake production in adjacent areas subject to enhanced N deposition. The AOSR, however, has also experienced atmospheric warming since ca. AD 1900, and therefore the relative effects of nutrient deposition and climate changes on lake production remain unclear. We undertook a factorial-design paleolimnological assessment of 16 lakes in northwest Saskatchewan to quantify changes in abundance and species composition of scaled chrysophytes over the past 100 years. Study sites included both N-limited and P-limited lakes within control regions, as well as lakes that receive enhanced N deposition from the AOSR. We hypothesized that a change in algal communities within N-limited AOSR-impacted lakes, without concurrent changes in the other lake groups, would suggest AOSR-derived N as a driver of enhanced primary production. Instead, marked increases in concentrations of scaled chrysophytes, mainly Mallomonas crassisquama, occurred in the recent sediments in cores from all four lake groups (N-limited vs. P-limited, impacted vs. control), suggesting that regional climate change rather than N deposition was the paramount process enhancing chrysophyte production. Because chrysophyte abundances tended to be higher in deep, lower-pH lakes, and chrysophyte time series were fit best by lake-specific generalized additive models, we infer that climate effects may have been mediated by additional catchment and/or lake-specific processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-435
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number3
Early online date06 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Athabasca Oil Sands
  • Climate change
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Regional warming
  • Scaled chrysophytes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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