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Centennial-scale changes to the aquatic vegetation structure of a shallow eutrophic lake and implications for restoration

Authors


  • Present address: Genevieve Madgwick, Natural England, Eastbrook, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge, CB2 8DR, U.K.

Carl Sayer, Department of Geography, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, U.K. E-mail: c.sayer@ucl.ac.uk

Summary

1. We investigate long-term (>200 years) changes to the composition and spatial structure of macrophyte communities in a shallow, eutrophic lake (Barton Broad, eastern England) and consider the implications for lake restoration.

2. Historical macrophyte data were assembled from a variety of sources: existing plant databases, museum herbaria, journal articles, old photographs and eyewitness accounts. Additionally, two types of sediment core sample were analysed for plant macro-remains and pollen; bulk basal samples from multiple core sites analysed to provide information on ‘pre-disturbance’ macrophyte communities and two whole cores analysed to determine historical change.

3. Prior to the late 1800s, macrophyte communities were diverse and included a multilayered mosaic of short-stature submerged taxa and taller submerged and floating-leaved species. With the progression of eutrophication after around 1900, the former community was displaced by the latter. Diversity was maintained, however, since an encroaching Schoenoplectus–nymphaeid swamp generated extensive patches of low-energy habitat affording refugia for several macrophytes otherwise unable to withstand the hydraulic forces associated with open water conditions. When this swamp vegetation disappeared in the 1950s, many of the ‘dependent’ aquatic macrophytes also declined leaving behind a sparse, species-poor community (as today) resilient to both eutrophication and turbulent open waters.

4. The combination of historical and palaeolimnological data sources offers considerable benefits for reconstructing past changes to the aquatic vegetation of lakes and for setting restoration goals. In this respect, our study suggests that successful restoration might often be better judged by reinstatement of the characteristic structure of plant communities than the fine detail of species lists; when nutrients are low and the structure is right, the right species will follow.

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