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Erik Jeppesen

Predicting ecosystem state changes in shallow lakes using an aquatic ecosystem model: Lake Hinge, Denmark, an example

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In recent years, considerable efforts have been made to restore turbid, phytoplankton-dominated shallow lakes to a clear-water state with high coverage of submerged macrophytes. Various dynamic lake models with simplified physical representations of vertical gradients, such as PCLake, have been used to predict external nutrient load thresholds for such nonlinear regime shifts. However, recent observational studies have questioned the concept of regime shifts by emphasizing that gradual changes are more common than sudden shifts. We investigated if regime shifts would be more gradual if the models account for depth-dependent heterogeneity of the system by including the possibility of vertical gradients in the water column and sediment layers for the entire depth. Hence, bifurcation analysis was undertaken using the 1D hydrodynamic model GOTM, accounting for vertical gradients, coupled to the aquatic ecosystem model PCLake, which is implemented in the framework for aquatic biogeochemical modeling (FABM). First, the model was calibrated and validated against a comprehensive data set covering two consecutive 7-yr periods from Lake Hinge, a shallow, eutrophic Danish lake. The autocalibration program Auto-Calibration Python (ACPy) was applied to achieve a more comprehensive adjustment of model parameters. The model simulations showed excellent agreement with observed data for water temperature, total nitrogen, and nitrate and good agreement for ammonium, total phosphorus, phosphate, and chlorophyll a concentrations. Zooplankton and macrophyte coverage were adequately simulated for the purpose of this study, and in general the GOTM-FABM-PCLake model simulations performed well compared with other model studies. In contrast to previous model studies ignoring depth heterogeneity, our bifurcation analysis revealed that the spatial extent and depth limitation of macrophytes as well as phytoplankton chlorophyll-a responded more gradually over time to a reduction in the external phosphorus load, albeit some hysteresis effects still appeared. In a management perspective, our study emphasizes the need to include depth heterogeneity in the model structure to more correctly determine at which external nutrient load a given lake changes ecosystem state to a clear-water condition.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02160
JournalEcological Applications
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

    Research areas

  • aquatic ecosystem modeling, critical nutrient loads, FABM-PCLake, General Ocean Turbulence Model, lake restoration, predictive ecology, regime shifts, shallow lakes, water quality

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