• constraint;
  • geomorphology;
  • lake;
  • lake district;
  • landscape;
  • legacy;
  • spatial pattern

1. We tested the degree to which a lake's landscape position constrains the expression of limnological features and imposes a characteristic spatial pattern in a glacial lake district, the Northern Highland Lake District in north-central Wisconsin.

2. We defined lake order as a metric to analyze the effect of landscape position on limnological features. Lake order, analogous to stream order, is based solely on geographical information and is simple to measure.

3. We examined the strength of the relationship between lake order and a set of 25 variables, which included measures of lake morphometry, water optical properties, major ions, nutrients, biology, and human settlement patterns.

4. Lake order explained a significant fraction of the variance of 21 of the 25 variables tested with ANOVA. The fraction of variance explained varied from 12% (maximum depth) to 56% (calcium concentration). The variables most strongly related to lake order were: measures of lake size and shape, concentrations of major ions (except sulfate) and silica, biological variables (chlorophyll concentration, crayfish abundance, and fish species richness), and human-use variables (density of cottages and resorts). Lake depth, water optical properties, and nutrient concentrations (other than silica) were poorly associated with lake order.

5. Potential explanations for a relationship with lake order differed among variables. In some cases, we could hypothesize a direct link. For example, major ion concentration is a function of groundwater input, which is directly related to lake order. We see these as a direct influence of the geomorphic template left by the retreat of the glacier that led to the formation of this lake district.

6. In other cases, a set of indirect links was hypothesized. For example, the effect of lake order on lake size, water chemistry, and lake connectivity may ultimately explain the relation between lake order and fish species richness. We interpret these relationships as the result of constraints imposed by the geomorphic template on lake development over the last 12 000 years.

7. By identifying relationships between lake characteristics and a measure of landscape position, and by identifying geomorphologic constraints on lake features and lake evolution, our analysis explains an important aspect of the spatial organization of a lake district.