Palaeolimnological evidence of environmental change over the last 400 years in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda

Gayle McGlynn, Anson W. Mackay, Neil L. Rose, Richard G. Taylor, Melanie J. Leng, Daniel R. Engstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Tropical alpine areas may be highly sensitive to climate change. Yet, because high-resolution palaeoenvironmental studies in these regions are scant, patterns of environmental change over the last few centuries, and linkages with regional changes, remain poorly resolved. This article presents a 400-year palaeolimnological record from Lower Kitandara Lake (3,989 m above m. a. s. l.), located in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, where marked glacial recession has been recorded over much of the twentieth century. An age model is produced for a 57.5 cm sediment core based on 210Pb and 14C dating, suggesting a basal date of approximately 1600 AD. Diatom and organic geochemistry (%TOC, C/N ratios, δ13C) analyses are carried out at an approximately decadal resolution. Twentieth-century glacial recession does not appear to have significantly impacted either the diatom or geochemical records. However, large ecological changes have occurred during the past 400 years, particularly shown by the diatom fluxes and geochemical data. Throughout the core, the diatom record reveals only minor changes in assemblage composition, which may be related to the dominance of Staurosira construens var. venter in the lake's diatom flora, a tychoplanktonic taxon which is highly adaptive to environmental change. Geochemical analyses, however, reveal a marked change at around the end of the eighteenth century, when C/N ratios suggest an increase in the dominance of algal aquatic sources to lacustrine organic matter, concomitant with a stabilisation of catchment inputs and increased diatom productivity, which may have been caused by reduced glacial inputs. The relationship between these changes at Lower Kitandara Lake and wider regional climate change that occurred at the end of the eighteenth century is not well understood, but this study highlights the need for additional research to link drivers of alpine ecosystem change with those operating at low altitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-122
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements Research was conducted with permission of the Ugandan National Council of Science and Technology (No. NS 145) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Research was made possible by a grant from the Royal Geographical Society (Ralph Brown Ward 2003) to Taylor, Rose and Mackay. Monies for radiocarbon dating were provided by the ECRC Trust Fund. The authors are grateful for field assistance provided by the Rwenzori Mountaineering Service, Immaculate Ssemmanda (Makerere University), Virginia Panizzo (UCL) and Nelson Guma (UWA).


  • Diatoms
  • East Africa
  • Organic carbon
  • Palaeolimnology
  • Rwenzori Mountains


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