Coupling between primary terrestrial succession and the trophic development of lakes at Glacier Bay, Alaska

D. R. Engstrom, S. C. Fritz

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34 Scopus citations


The natural eutrophication of lakes is still an accepted concept in limnology, arising as it does from the earliest efforts to classify lakes and place them in an evolutionary sequence. Recent studies of newly formed lakes at Glacier Bay, Alaska, only partially support this idea, and suggest more variable trends in lake trophic development which are under local (catchment-level) control. Here we use sediment cores from several lakes in Glacier Bay National Park to examine the relationship between successional changes in catchment vegetation and trends in water-column nitrogen (a limiting nutrient) and lake primary production. Terrestrial succession at Glacier Bay follows several different pathways, with older sites in the lower bay being colonized directly by spruce (Picea) and by-passing a prolonged alder (Alnus) stage that characterizes younger upper-bay sites. Sediment cores from three sites spanning this successional gradient demonstrate that the variability in nitrogen trends among lakes is a consequence of the establishment and duration of N-fixing alder in the lake catchment. In the lower-bay lakes, diatom-inferred nitrogen concentrations rise and then fall in concert with the transient appearance of alder in the catchment, while in the upper bay, high nitrogen concentrations are sustained by the continuous dominance of alder. Diatom accumulation, a proxy for whole-lake biological productivity, increases steadily at all three sites during the first century following lake formation, but declines in more recent times at the lower-bay sites in apparent response to the disappearance of alder and decreasing lake-water nitrogen. These results demonstrate a tight biogeochemical coupling between terrestrial succession and lake trophic change during the early developmental history of Glacier Bay lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-880
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jim Almendinger, Barbara Coffin, Jan Janssens, Ed Swain, and Herb Wright for assistance in the field, and Gustavus residents Sandy Burd, Mary Hervin, Bob Howe, and Greg Streveler, and NPS and USGS staff at Glacier Bay National Park for logistical support. Barbara Hansen performed the pollen analysis, and Steve Juggins assisted with the diatom numerical analysis. Financial support was provided by the NSF Ecology Program and by the late D.B. Lawrence. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Geoff Seltzer who was a colleague and companion on many of our Glacier Bay adventures.


  • Diatom accumulation
  • Glacier Bay
  • Lake ontogeny
  • Nitrogen
  • Primary production
  • Primary succession


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