Patterns of nutrient dynamics in Adirondack lakes recovering from acid deposition

Jacqueline R. Gerson, Charles T. Driscoll, Karen M. Roy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


With decreases in acid deposition, nitrogen: phosphorus (N:P) ratios in lakes are anticipated to decline, decreasing P limitation of phytoplankton and potentially changing current food web dynamics. This effect could be particularly pronounced in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, a historic hotspot for effects of acid deposition. In this study, we evaluate spatial patterns of nutrient dynamics in Adirondack lakes and use these to infer potential future temporal trends. We calculated Mann-Kendall tau correlations among total phosphorus (TP), chlorophyll a, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), acid neutralizing capacity (ANC), and nitrate (NO3-) concentrations in 52 Adirondack Long Term Monitoring (ALTM) program lakes using samples collected monthly during 2008-2012. We evaluated the hypothesis that decreased atmospheric N and S deposition will decrease P limitation in freshwater ecosystems historically impacted by acidification. We also compared these patterns among lake watershed characteristics (i.e., seepage or lacking a surface outlet, chain drainage, headwater drainage, thin glacial till, medium glacial till). We found that correlations (P < 0.05) were highly dependent upon the different hydrologic fowpaths of seepage vs. drainage lakes. Differentiations among watershed till depth were also important in determining correlations due to water interaction with surficial geology. Additionally, we found low NO3-:TP (N:P mass) values in seepage lakes (2.0 in winter, 1.9 in summer) compared to chain drainage lakes (169.4 in winter, 49.5 in summer) and headwater drainage lakes (97.0 in winter, 10.9 in summer), implying a high likelihood of future shifts in limitation patterns for seepage lakes. With increasing DOC and decreasing NO3- concentrations coinciding with decreases in acid deposition, there is reason to expect changes in nutrient dynamics in Adirondack lakes. Seepage lakes may become N-limited, while drainage lakes may become less P-limited, both resulting in increased productivity. Longterm measurements of TP and chlorophyll a from the Adirondacks are needed to inform how future decreases in atmospheric N and S deposition will influence the trophic status of lake ecosystems throughout the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1758-1770
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Acidification
  • Adirondack Long Term Monitoring
  • Chlorophyll a
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Lake
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Phosphorus
  • Productivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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