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Unexpected stasis in a changing world: Lake nutrient and chlorophyll trends since 1990

Oliver, Samantha K., Collins, Sarah M., Soranno, Patricia A., Wagner, Tyler, Stanley, Emily H., Jones, John R., Stow, Craig A., Lottig, Noah R.
Global change biology 2017 v.23 no.12 pp. 5455-5467
air temperature, atmospheric deposition, chlorophyll, climate, databases, eutrophication, geophysics, intensive farming, lakes, land use, linear models, nitrogen content, nutrients, phosphorus, stoichiometry, urbanization, water quality, Northeastern United States
The United States (U.S.) has faced major environmental changes in recent decades, including agricultural intensification and urban expansion, as well as changes in atmospheric deposition and climate—all of which may influence eutrophication of freshwaters. However, it is unclear whether or how water quality in lakes across diverse ecological settings has responded to environmental change. We quantified water quality trends in 2913 lakes using nutrient and chlorophyll (Chl) observations from the Lake Multi‐Scaled Geospatial and Temporal Database of the Northeast U.S. (LAGOS‐NE), a collection of preexisting lake data mostly from state agencies. LAGOS‐NE was used to quantify whether lake water quality has changed from 1990 to 2013, and whether lake‐specific or regional geophysical factors were related to the observed changes. We modeled change through time using hierarchical linear models for total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), stoichiometry (TN:TP), and Chl. Both the slopes (percent change per year) and intercepts (value in 1990) were allowed to vary by lake and region. Across all lakes, TN declined at a rate of 1.1% year⁻¹, while TP, TN:TP, and Chl did not change. A minority (7%–16%) of individual lakes had changing nutrients, stoichiometry, or Chl. Of those lakes that changed, we found differences in the geospatial variables that were most related to the observed change in the response variables. For example, TN and TN:TP trends were related to region‐level drivers associated with atmospheric deposition of N; TP trends were related to both lake and region‐level drivers associated with climate and land use; and Chl trends were found in regions with high air temperature at the beginning of the study period. We conclude that despite large environmental change and management efforts over recent decades, water quality of lakes in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. has not overwhelmingly degraded or improved.