Nearshore-offshore trends in Lake Superior phytoplankton

Katya E. Kovalenko, Euan D. Reavie, Andrew J. Bramburger, Anne Cotter, Michael E. Sierszen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Changes in phytoplankton community composition and structure can have broad-scale ecosystem effects; however, drivers of species diversity in planktonic systems are not well understood. In lakes, a common but not thoroughly tested assumption is that shallow, nearshore waters are much more diverse and productive, and contribute considerably more material and energy to pelagic food webs than deeper waters farther offshore. Lake Superior is a large, cold, oligotrophic freshwater system which can provide insight into community organization under oligotrophic conditions. We used epilimnion and deep chlorophyll layer phytoplankton data from a lake-wide sampling program conducted in 2011 and 2016 to test whether assemblage composition, total algal biovolume, cell concentrations, diversity, and richness vary with depth. Although lake depth was an important factor in structuring assemblage composition, there were no clear nearshore-offshore gradients in cell density or biovolume despite the exposure of nearshore areas to higher concentrations of watershed-derived nutrients. Shannon diversity increased slightly with increasing depth, whereas richness was uncorrelated. Understanding of the nearshore-offshore patterns in phytoplankton community characteristics in the Great Lakes has implications for designing monitoring strategies and for considering how further changes in climate and nutrient deposition would affect the base of the food web.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1197-1204
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Sampling and taxonomic analyses were supported financially by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Great Lakes National Program Office. This study was partly supported by a grant to University of Minnesota Duluth from the U.S. EPA under Cooperative Agreement GL-00E23101-2 . Although the research described herein has been funded by the U.S. EPA, it has not been subjected to Agency review and may not reflect the views of the Agency. Appendix A

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 International Association for Great Lakes Research


  • Algal community
  • Deep chlorophyll maximum
  • Littoral-pelagic gradient
  • Shannon diversity


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