Acidification and Climate Warming: Understanding the Impact of Multiple Anthropogenic Stressors on Adirondack (NY, USA) Lakes

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Arseneau, Kristina
Chrysophytes , Paleolimnology , Acidification , Climate Change , Recovery , Reference Sites , Adirondacks
Lakes in the Adirondack Park (NY, USA) are undergoing chemical recovery from acidification. There is now a pressing research need to define recovery targets for acid-impacted sites. Researchers attempting to designate such targets are hampered by two issues: 1) a lack of long-term monitoring data, and 2) the influence of multiple stressors on recovering lakes. This thesis addresses both difficulties by applying paleolimnological techniques within a regional reference lake framework. Using a set of stringent selection criteria, 31 lakes protected from acidification, eutrophication, road salt seepage, and piscivore introductions were identified from 1,469 Adirondack lakes. Ordination techniques showed that the lakes are representative of 24-36% of the chemical/morphological variation of Adirondack lakes. Qualitative and quantitative historic analyses found that many of the lakes experienced early watershed and/or fisheries disturbance, highlighting the danger of assuming that a lake’s condition remains static over time. A top-bottom paleolimnological study revealed that the reference lakes have undergone a ‘shifting baseline’ in species assemblages, with increases in colonial and/or warm-water chrysophyte taxa from pre-1900 to present, changes most likely due to regional warming and/or oligotrophication. A subset of three reference lakes were then paired with two Adirondack lakes that acidified and are undergoing chemical recovery from acidification. The acidified lakes underwent a significant shift in species composition since the 1995 implementation of the US Acid Rain Program, indicating biological recovery from acidification. However, both reference and acidified lakes showed increases in colonial chrysophytes since ca. 1970-1980, a trend correlated with mean annual air temperature and ice-cover measures in the two reference lakes. Long-term species changes in acidified/reference lakes suggest that the recovering lakes will not return to their pre-disturbance state but will instead move to a state characterized by an increased abundance of colonial taxa/warm-water species. Overall, this thesis demonstrates the utility of pairing paleolimnological techniques with a regional reference site dataset for tracking shifting baselines and defining recovery targets, a method that could be applied to examine other stressors in other regions, thereby addressing a critical management need.
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