Response of temperate lakes to drought: a paleolimnological perspective on the landscape position concept using diatom-based reconstructions

Courtney R. Wigdahl-Perry, Jasmine E. Saros, Jennifer Schmitz, Randy Calcote, James Rusak, Dennis Anderson, Sara Hotchkiss

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10 Scopus citations


The hydrological position of a lake within the landscape can affect a number of lake chemical, physical, and biological features, as well as how lakes respond to environmental change. We present a paleolimnological test of the model for landscape position and lake response to climate change proposed by Webster et al. (2000). To investigate how diatom communities have responded to drought relative to landscape position, we examined sedimentary diatom profiles extending through the twentieth century from an upland site (Crystal Lake) and a lowland site (Allequash Lake) in the Northern Highlands region of north-central Wisconsin (USA). To explore changes in diatom communities at each site, we developed a calibration set and transfer functions from 48 lakes in Wisconsin’s Northern Highland Lake District. We further determined planktic:benthic ratios in the two target lakes, developed lake level models, and investigated the sensitivity of planktic:benthic diatom ratios to climatic variability over the past century. In the upland lake, diatom communities responded indirectly to climate via drought-induced changes in lake level, which resulted in shifts in planktic versus benthic habitat availability. This response of diatoms to changes in habitat availability provides an alternative approach for tracking climate change in upland lakes, though careful consideration must be given to the effect of the bathymetry and its relationship to lake level change and habitat zonation at individual sites. In the lowland lake, changes in diatom communities were related to temperature (and possibly lakewater chemistry) and physical changes secondarily. These results are consistent with the model by Webster et al. (2000), with chemical changes occurring in the lowland system and little chemical response in the upland system. However, the biological changes in sediment records presented here provide additional insight into how lake response to climatic change is shaped by landscape position, contributing to a clearer understanding of potential changes in ecosystem structure and function during drought conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-356
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to dedicate this manuscript to Jennifer Schmitz, our co-author and valued colleague who passed away on March 1, 2014. This work was funded by the NSF under Cooperative Agreement #DEB-0083545 (University of Wisconsin—Madison’s Biocomplexity Project), and #DEB-0751283, and NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates grants. We thank REU students Megan Kratz and James Morrison for their help in core collection and processing, and Jarvis Erickson for counting the diatom samples. Phil Woods provided helpful comments on the manuscript, and the NTL-LTER provided facility access and equipment in the field. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor for their thoughtful comments and suggestions, which greatly improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Benthic
  • Diatom
  • Drought
  • Lake level
  • Landscape position
  • Planktic


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