Biodiversity changes in a shallow lake ecosystem: A multi-proxy palaeolimnological analysis

C. Sayer*, N. Roberts, J. Sadler, C. David, P. M. Wade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Biodiversity is a key measure of environmental quality in lake ecosystems. Lake biodiversity can be assessed using modern survey data, but typically these data only provide a 'snapshot' measure and in most cases it is not possible to reconstruct temporal trends in biodiversity, so that human impacts can be detected. Palaeoecological techniques offer an alternative means of identifying changes in biodiversity over the period of historical records and far beyond, but there are problems associated with this approach. This is because only a select set of organisms leave a trace in the sediment record such that it is not usually possible to make reliable assessments of diversity changes within an entire taxonomic order (e.g. the algae). Moreover these organisms are typically from the lower levels of the trophic hierarchy (i.e. plants and insects). The problems of identifying changes in biodiversity from the palaeolimnological record are addressed with reference to Groby Pool, a shallow, eutrophic, medieval lake in the English Midlands, which has been subjected to eutrophication over the last 150 years. 210Pb and 137Cs-dated sediment cores have been used to estimate short-term alterations in the composition and diversity of three groups of indicators, representing different levels in the trophic cascade, namely diatoms, aquatic pollen and chironomids. By exploring relationships, both between these indicators and with archival macrophyte records, an assessment is made of eutrophication-related changes in overall habitat diversity at the ecosystem level. These data suggest that the lake has undergone considerable nutrient enrichment, resulting in the loss of a diverse, mesotrophic macrophyte flora from at least the turn of the century onwards and its replacement by a few highly competitive species tolerant of high nutrient concentrations. Reductions in macrophyte diversity seem to be reflected palaeoecologically by a decline in the diversity of fossil chironomid assemblages, related to the breakdown of particular host-plant relationships amongst the phytophagic species. However, diatom assemblages generally exhibit the opposite trend, which may be related to increases in macrophyte cover and increasing opportunities for the colonization of diverse epiphyte communities. The different fossil indicators have different limitations and merits, and for this reason a 'multi-proxy' approach is essential if meaningful inferences are to be made of changes in lake biodiversity using palaeoecological data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999


  • 'multi-proxy analysis'
  • Biodiversity
  • Eutrophication
  • Palaeolimnology
  • Shallow lake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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