Our current understanding of lake ecosystem response to climate change: What have we really learned from the north temperate deep lakes?

Yuko Shimoda, M. Ekram Azim, Gurbir Perhar, Maryam Ramin, Melissa A. Kenney, Somayeh Sadraddini, Alex Gudimov, George B. Arhonditsis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Climatic change is recognized as an important factor capable of influencing the structural properties of aquatic ecosystems. Lake ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change. Several long time-series studies have shown close coupling between climate, lake thermal properties and individual organism physiology, population abundance, community structure, and food-web structure. Understanding the complex interplay between climate, hydrological variability, and ecosystem structure and functioning is essential to inform water resources risk assessment and fisheries management. The purpose of this paper is to present the current understanding of climate-induced changes on lake ecosystem phenology. We first review the ability of climate to modulate the interactions among lake hydrodynamics, chemical factors, and food-web structure in several north temperate deep lakes (e.g., Lake Washington, Lake Tahoe, Lake Constance, Lake Geneva, Lake Baikal, and Lake Zurich). Our aim is to assess long-term trends in the physical (e.g., temperature, timing of stratification, and duration of ice cover), chemical (e.g., nutrient concentrations), and biological (e.g., timing of the spring bloom, phytoplankton composition, and zooplankton abundance) characteristics of the lakes and to examine the signature of local weather conditions (e.g., air temperature and rainfall) and large-scale climatic variability (e.g., ENSO and PDO) on the lake physics, chemistry and biology. We also conducted modeling experiments to quantify the relative effect of climate change and nutrient loading on lake phenology. These modeling experiments focused on the relative changes to the major causal associations underlying plankton dynamics during the spring bloom and the summer stratified period. To further understand the importance of climate change on lakes, we propose two complementary directions of future research. First, additional research is needed to elucidate the wide array of in-lake processes that are likely to be affected by the climate change. Second, it is essential to examine the heterogeneity in responses among different water bodies. The rationale of this approach and its significance for dealing with the uncertainty that the climate signals cascade through lake ecosystems and shape abiotic variability and/or biotic responses have been recently advocated by several other synthesis papers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-193
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC, Discovery Grants), and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (Early Researcher Award granted to George Arhonditsis). Yuko Shimoda has also received support from a UTSC Research Fellowship (Master of Environmental Science Program, Centre for Environment & University of Toronto at Scarborough ).


  • Climate change
  • Eutrophication
  • Food-web dynamics
  • Lake phenology
  • Regime shifts
  • Risk assessment
  • Structural equation modeling
  • System resilience


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