Assesing biological recovery from acidification and metal contamination in urban lakes from Sudbury, Canada : a paleolimological approach
Tropea, Amy Elizabeth
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The acidification and metal contamination of freshwater resources are major environmental concerns in many areas, with Sudbury (Ontario, Canada) having been amongst the most severely impacted. Many scientific investigations have examined the effects of these environmental stressors on aquatic systems, but relatively little is known about the biological recovery process following smelter emission reductions. Therefore, paleolimnological techniques were utilized to determine if diatom and scaled chrysophyte assemblages have recovered toward their pre-disturbance conditions as a result of reduced anthropogenic inputs. Pre-industrial algal assemblages were primarily dominated by circumneutral to alkaline and pH-indifferent taxa. However, there was a shift toward acid-tolerant species in all study lakes with the onset of open pit roasting and smelting operations. Coinciding with emission reductions, scaled chrysophyte assemblages in two of the three study sites have shown evidence of biological recovery. Given the population growth of the city of Sudbury over the last century, and the lack of scientific information regarding cultural eutrophication trends in the region, paleolimnological techniques were also used to track long-term biological changes within diatom assemblages related to cultural disturbances. Historically, oligotrophic diatom taxa primarily dominated the algal assemblages in each of the four study lakes. With the onset of urban environmental stressors there was a shift toward taxa which thrive in more productive systems. In addition, diatom assemblages appear to track increased lakewater pH through time. Finally, geochemical analysis tracked the increase in copper and nickel concentrations in lake sediment with the onset of open pit roasting and smelting activities and the subsequent decline in concentration with emission controls. Metal concentrations in recently deposited lake sediments remain elevated compared to pre-industrial concentrations. Paleolimnological studies comparing pre- and post-disturbance algal assemblages are of interest to lake managers as these data will aid in setting realistic mitigation targets for freshwater systems impacted by acidification, cultural eutrophication, and metal contamination, and will help gauge biological recovery mechanisms. Furthermore, this study provides insight in to the role other environmental stressors (e.g., climate change) may play in the biological recovery process.