Degraded Softwater Lakes: Possibilities for Restoration



In the Netherlands, the characteristic flora of shallow softwater lakes has declined rapidly as a consequence of eutrophication, alkalization and acidification. The sediment of most lakes has become nutrient rich and anaerobic. We expected that, if a vital seed bank was still present, restoration of the original water quality and sediment conditions would lead to the return of softwater macrophytes. The restoration of 15 degraded, shallow, softwater lakes in the Netherlands was monitored from 1983 to 1998. In eutrophied as well as in acidified lakes, removal of accumulated organic matter from the sediment and shores was followed by rapid recolonization of softwater macrophytes present in the seedbank. After isolation from alkaline water and subsequent mud removal, this recovery was also observed in alkalized lakes. Further development of softwater vegetation correlated strongly with the water quality. When renewed eutrophication was successfully prevented, softwater macrophytes could expand. However, in acidified lakes, Juncus bulbosus and Sphagnum species became dominant after restoration. Liming of an acidified lake was followed by re-acidification within 3 years. Recolonization by softwater macrophytes was inhibited by high turbidity of the water column and spreading of large helophytes on the shore. As an alternative, controlled inlet of alkaline, nutrient-poor groundwater was studied in a few lakes. The pH of those lakes increased, the carbon and nitrogen availability decreased and softwater macrophytes returned. Successful restoration has contributed considerably to maintaining biodiversity in softwater lakes in the Netherlands.