Holocene relationships between climate, waterfowl, and lacustrine nutrient cycling at Kettle Lake, North Dakota, USA

Nicole K. Murray, Jessica L. Conroy, Kate O’Brien, Eric C. Grimm, Joseph J. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Avian populations can substantially influence lacustrine nutrient loading and biogeochemical cycling through guano deposition. Here, we examine the influence of climate-forced avian migration throughout the Holocene on Kettle Lake, North Dakota, using stable nitrogen and carbon isotope values (δ15N, δ13C) of lake sediment organic matter. Carbon content and δ13C values are negatively correlated with δ15N and appear to be driven by changes in charcoal abundance and watershed vegetation, respectively. We find enriched δ15N values when the guano mineral struvite is present in the lake sediment core in the early to Mid-Holocene. A strong δ15N-percent Nitrogen content relationship during periods with struvite, relative to periods without struvite, indicates that guano deposition from mass bird visitations altered past nitrogen cycle processes, likely through enhanced denitrification. These results attest to the ability of waterfowl to alter lacustrine N-cycling in a mid-continental North American lake, and indicate that paleo-N data in this particular lake are recording a unique history that does not necessarily represent regional paleoenvironmental conditions. However, a significant, positive relationship between δ15N and Ambrosia and Amaranthaceae pollen abundance suggests avian visitation and its impacts on the N-cycle occurred during periods of anomalously wet summers superimposed on the background conditions of early to Mid-Holocene drought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1132-1141
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Holocene
  • lake
  • nitrogen
  • nitrogen isotope
  • Prairie Pothole Region
  • waterfowl

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