The Ecological History of Lake Ontario According to Phytoplankton

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Lisa Estepp Allinger, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, MN, United States and Euan D Reavie, Natural Resources Research Institute, Duluth, MN, United States
Lake Ontario’s water quality has fluctuated since European settlement and our understanding of the cause-and-effect linkages between observed ecosystem shifts and stressors are evolving and improving. Changes in the physical and chemical environment of the lake due to non-indigenous species, pollution, sedimentation, turbidity and climate change altered the pelagic primary producers, so algal assessments have been valuable for tracking long-term conditions. We present a chronological account of pelagic algal assessments and some nearshore areas to summarize past and present environmental conditions in Lake Ontario. This review particularly focuses on diatom-based assessments as their fossils in sediments have revealed the combined effects of environmental insults and recovery. This review recaps the long-term trends according to three unique regions: Hamilton Harbor, the main lake basin and the Bay of Quinte. We summarize pre-European settlement, eutrophication throughout most of the 20th century, subsequent water quality improvement due to nutrient reductions and filter-feeding dreissenid colonization and contemporary pelagic, shoreline and embayment impairments. Recent pelagic phytoplankton data suggest that although phytoplankton biovolume remains stable, species composition has shifted to an increase in spring eutrophic diatoms and summer blue-green algae. Continued monitoring and evaluation of historical data will assist in understanding and responding to the natural and anthropogenic drivers of Lake Ontario’s environmental conditions. As such we have initiated a new paleolimnological investigation, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency-Great Lakes National Program Office, to reconstruct the long-term environmental history of Lake Ontario and will present preliminary results.