Diatom assemblages reveal regional-scale differences in lake responses to recent climate change at the boreal-tundra ecotone, Manitoba, Canada

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Journal of Paleolimnology


The direction of pan-Arctic ecosystem shifts in response to climate warming is relatively well understood; however, landscape-level linkages among terrestrial, wetland, and lake ecosystems significantly influence the dynamics of each, making it difficult to generalize about lake responses to warming across the Arctic, and at times difficult to interpret paleoclimate records from lake sediments. To investigate differences in lake responses to recent climate change at the boreal-tundra ecotone, we conducted a 2-year survey of diatom assemblages from lakes with varying catchment characteristics in northern Manitoba, Canada. We investigated whether catchment geomorphology and landscape, including slope and vegetative cover, result in characteristic water chemistries and hence diatom assemblage signatures, which could then be used in paleolimnological studies to infer past changes in the catchment. Forty-four lakes were sampled for water chemistry and catchment vegetation was characterized using Landsat Imagery. Lake catchments were generally small (median 702 ha) and dominated by peat (Sphagnum) with or without lowland forest (Picea-Larix), or open tundra, with different amounts of exposed rock/till, upland forest/woodlands, and burn recovery area. Lakes were generally nutrient-poor, with lower nutrient and DOC concentrations in tundra-dominated catchments, and higher nutrients and DOC in catchments with greater forest cover. A diatom-based transfer function for pH (R = 0.72, Rboot2 = 0.54) was developed and compared with diatom assemblage turnover and sediment geochemistry in cores from eight lakes to reconstruct limnologic conditions over the past ~200 years. Most cores showed similar increases in biogenic silica and carbon burial, beginning around AD 1880 in the tundra lakes and about 1920 in the more forested catchments, likely in response to regional warming. In contrast to lakes in other Arctic regions, our lakes showed only minor pH changes in recent decades. The shift, however, was more pronounced in higher-latitude lakes with less forest cover, suggesting small-scale watershed influence on lake response to climate, even on short time scales. Diatom assemblages did not follow previously published models of climate-linked community change seen in circum-Arctic and sub-Arctic lakes. Translating local changes detected in the paleolimnological record to the regional level requires an understanding of how different catchment properties mediate the response of lakes, and their diatom assemblages, to climate change. 2

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