In deep temperate lakes, the beginning of the growing season is triggered by thermal stratification, which alleviates light limitation of planktonic producers in the surface layer and prevents heat loss to deeper strata. The sequence of subsequent phenological events (phytoplankton spring bloom, grazer peak, clearwater phase) results in part from coupled phytoplankton–grazer interactions. Disentangling the separate, direct effects of correlated climatic drivers (stratification-dependent underwater light climate vs. water temperature) from their indirect effects mediated through trophic feedbacks is impossible using observational field data, which challenges our understanding of global warming effects on seasonal plankton dynamics. We therefore manipulated water temperature and stratification depth independently in experimental field mesocosms containing ambient microplankton and inocula of the resident grazer Daphnia hyalina. Higher light availability in shallower surface layers accelerated primary production, warming accelerated consumption and growth of Daphnia, and both factors speeded up successional dynamics driven by trophic feedbacks. Specifically, phytoplankton peaked and decreased earlier and Daphnia populations increased and peaked earlier at both shallower stratification and higher temperature. The timing of ciliate dynamics was unrelated to both factors. Volumetric peak densities of phytoplankton, ciliates and Daphnia in the surface layer were also unaffected by temperature but declined with stratification depth in parallel with light availability. The latter relationship vanished, however, when population sizes were integrated over the entire water column. Overall our results suggest that, integrated over the entire water column of a deep lake, surface warming and shallower stratification independently speed up spring successional events, whereas the magnitudes of phytoplankton and zooplankton spring peaks are less sensitive to these factors. Therefore, accelerated dynamics under warming need not lead to a trophic mismatch (given similar grazer inocula at the time of stratification). We emphasize that entire water column dynamics must be studied to estimate global warming effects on lake ecosystems.
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