Freshwater Reviews, Vol 6, No 2 (2013)

Chemical and biological responses of marl lakes to eutrophication

Emma Wiik, Helen Bennion, Carl D Sayer, Nigel J Willby
DOI: 10.1608/FRJ-6.2.630 | Pages: 35-62


Eutrophication remains one of the foremost environmental issues threatening the quality of surface waters yet comparatively little is known of the timing, magnitude and characteristics of nutrient-related changes in highly calcareous (marl) lakes.  This review focuses on marl lake ecology and chemistry, their known responses to eutrophication, and also highlights questions that remain unanswered.                    
            In good condition, marl lakes support a diversity of macrophytes, especially Characeae and Potamogetonaceae, which can grow to considerable depth.  High water transparency and low phosphorus and phytoplankton concentrations are facilitated by the coprecipitation of marl and phosphorus.  Although large amounts of phosphorus can be thus removed, buffering against eutrophication, macrophyte communities can undergo significant change under rather low nutrient concentrations.  Maximum colonisation depth declines and tolerant species replace sensitive species, with losses particularly among charophytes.  Marl lakes are therefore ecologically highly sensitive.
            The effects of coprecipitation on long-term burial of phosphorus are contested.  Several palaeolimnological studies have identified iron complexes as more important than calcite, as chemical conditions in the sediment may promote either calcite dissolution or calcite-bound phosphorus exchange, or possibly both.  Some marl lakes have been shown to have phosphorus concentrations which, compared with other lake types, are higher than expected in winter and lower in summer.  The phosphorus binding capacity of marl sediment has not to our knowledge been adequately researched.
            Marl precipitation may be inhibited by high phosphate or organic matter concentrations in the water, or when biological communities effecting precipitation (picoplankton, charophytes, epiphytes) are disturbed.  Highly impacted marl lakes having low species diversity and lacking precipitation may be misidentified as eutrophic, high-alkalinity lakes.  More studies addressing the interaction between external loading, phosphorus cycling and marl precipitation in relation to biological communities are required to assess to what extent marl lakes can buffer eutrophication, and what factors contribute to disturbed marl precipitation.