1. Using a palaeolimnological approach in shallow lakes, we quantified the species richness responses of diatoms and Cladocera to phosphorus enrichment. We also examined differences in species richness responses between littoral and pelagic assemblages of our focal communities. To address both spatial and temporal relationships, our study includes an analysis of both surface sediments from 40 lakes and of a lake sediment record spanning c. 120 years. The objective of our study was to determine whether similar species richness patterns occurred across trophic levels, as well as along spatial and temporal gradients.
2. We found that both diatom and Cladocera species richness estimates significantly declined with increasing phosphorus across space and through time. When the assemblages were subdivided according to known habitat preferences, littoral biodiversity maintained a negative trend, whereas pelagic species richness tended to show no relationship with phosphorus.
3. Negative productivity–diversity patterns have been observed across almost all palaeolimnological studies that span large productivity gradients. This congruence in patterns is most likely due to the similarity in data collection methods and in focal communities studied. The contrasting responses between littoral and pelagic assemblages may be explained by the differences in physical habitat and the pool of taxa in each of these environments. Consistent with the literature, we found statistical support for the idea that littoral diversity declines could be explained by an interaction between macrophytes and nutrients along strong trophic gradients. The general lack of a diversity response in our pelagic assemblages could be attributable to the limited pool of subfossil taxa. The response of the pelagic diatom could also be related to their broad range of nutrient tolerances.
4. The observed negative response of species richness to phosphorus enrichment, particularly in the littoral assemblages, has implications for ecosystems functioning because communities with reduced biodiversity often are less resilient to anthropogenic change.