Land-use legacies are important determinants of lake eutrophication in the anthropocene

Bronwyn E. Keatley, Elena M. Bennett, Graham K. MacDonald, Zofia E. Taranu, Irene Gregory-Eaves

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Background: A hallmark of the latter half of the 20th century is the widespread, rapid intensification of a variety of anthropogenically-driven environmental changes-a "Great Acceleration." While there is evidence of a Great Acceleration in a variety of factors known to be linked to water quality degradation, such as conversion of land to agriculture and intensification of fertilizer use, it is not known whether there has been a similar acceleration of freshwater eutrophication. Methodology/Principal Findings: Using quantitative reconstructions of diatom-inferred total phosphorus (DI-TP) as a proxy for lake trophic state, we synthesized results from 67 paleolimnological studies from across Europe and North America to evaluate whether most lakes showed a pattern of eutrophication with time and whether this trend was accelerated after 1945 CE, indicative of a Great Acceleration. We found that European lakes have experienced widespread increases in DI-TP over the 20th century and that 33% of these lakes show patterns consistent with a post-1945 CE Great Acceleration. In North America, the proportion of lakes that increased in DI-TP over time is much lower and only 9% exhibited a Great Acceleration of eutrophication. Conclusions/Significance: The longer and more widespread history of anthropogenic influence in Europe, the leading cause for the relatively pervasive freshwater eutrophication, provides an important cautionary tale; our current path of intensive agriculture around the world may lead to an acceleration of eutrophication in downstream lakes that could take centuries from which to recover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere15913
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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