Assessing Biological Recovery of Cladocera from Sudbury-Area Lakes Using Paleolimnology
Labaj, Andrew L.
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Lakes near Sudbury, Ontario, experienced widespread acidification and metal-contamination beginning in the late-19th century. These stressors caused extreme damage to regional aquatic systems and their catchments, with aquatic biota experiencing reduced species richness and, in some cases, extirpations. Emission control measures markedly improved pH, however biotic recovery continues to lag water quality improvements, prompting investigation into mechanisms leading to this phenomenon. Due to the lack of long-term monitoring data, I use paleolimnological approaches to examine temporal trends in cladoceran zooplankton, from pre-impact conditions, through the period of acidification/metal contamination, and following the implementation of emission controls. I assess the degree of biotic recovery that has taken place in these lakes, and review the mechanisms that continue to structure cladoceran assemblages. Lakes closest to Sudbury recorded increases of ~15-65% relative abundance of Chydorus brevilabris, concurrent with the late-1800s industrial development. The relative abundance of C. brevilabris remains elevated above pre-impact levels in two Sudbury lakes; however, in Middle Lake, which was neutralized with calcium carbonate, declines in C. brevilabris (to ~pre-impact levels) occurred following neutralization. Conversely, lakes located ~60 km southwest of Sudbury, in Killarney Provincial Park, experienced muted assemblage change, with minor (< ~5%) increases in grazers (e.g., Daphnia spp., Holopedium glacialis) occurring within the past ~40 years. Lakes in Sudbury and Killarney acidified to pH < ~5, however those in Sudbury additionally received high inputs of nickel and copper, which have toxic effects on aquatic organisms, including some Cladocera. Contamination with these metals may have been a primary driver of cladoceran assemblage change. Elevated metal concentrations likely continue to structure the cladoceran assemblages in the Sudbury lakes. In addition, many of the lakes contain altered food webs (e.g., large populations of yellow perch) as a legacy of the acid and metal contamination, acting as a potential barrier to recovery. Finally, warming air temperatures over the past ~40 years, which I link to increases in primary production, may alter the composition of cladoceran species found in these lakes, and therefore prevent a return to pre-impact conditions.