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Winter severity determines functional trait composition of phytoplankton in seasonally ice-covered lakes


, : Winter severity determines functional trait composition of phytoplankton in seasonally ice-covered lakes. Global Change Biology 22(1): 284-298

How climate change will affect the community dynamics and functionality of lake ecosystems during winter is still little understood. This is also true for phytoplankton in seasonally ice-covered temperate lakes which are particularly vulnerable to the presence or absence of ice. We examined changes in pelagic phytoplankton winter community structure in a north temperate lake (Müggelsee, Germany), covering 18 winters between 1995 and 2013. We tested how phytoplankton taxa composition varied along a winter-severity gradient and to what extent winter severity shaped the functional trait composition of overwintering phytoplankton communities using multivariate statistical analyses and a functional trait-based approach. We hypothesized that overwintering phytoplankton communities are dominated by taxa with trait combinations corresponding to the prevailing winter water column conditions, using ice thickness measurements as a winter-severity indicator. Winter severity had little effect on univariate diversity indicators (taxon richness and evenness), but a strong relationship was found between the phytoplankton community structure and winter severity when taxon trait identity was taken into account. Species responses to winter severity were mediated by the key functional traits: motility, nutritional mode, and the ability to form resting stages. Accordingly, one or the other of two functional groups dominated the phytoplankton biomass during mild winters (i.e., thin or no ice cover; phototrophic taxa) or severe winters (i.e., thick ice cover; exclusively motile taxa). Based on predicted milder winters for temperate regions and a reduction in ice-cover durations, phytoplankton communities during winter can be expected to comprise taxa that have a relative advantage when the water column is well mixed (i.e., need not be motile) and light is less limiting (i.e., need not be mixotrophic). A potential implication of this result is that winter severity promotes different communities at the vernal equinox, which may have different nutritional quality for the next trophic level and ecosystem-scale effects.

US$19.90

PMID: 26342133

DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13085


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