Climate change effects on runoff, catchment phosphorus loading and lake ecological state, and potential adaptations

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Received for publication March 3, 2008. Climate change may have profound effects on phosphorus (P) transport in streams and on lake eutrophication. Phosphorus loading from land to streams is expected to increase in northern temperate coastal regions due to higher winter rainfall and to a decline in warm temperate and arid climates. Model results suggest a 3.3 to 16.5% increase within the next 100 yr in the P loading of Danish streams depending on soil type and region. In lakes, higher eutrophication can be expected, reinforced by temperature-mediated higher P release from the sediment. Furthermore, a shift in fish community structure toward small and abundant plankti-benthivorous fish enhances predator control of zooplankton, resulting in higher phytoplankton biomass. Data from Danish lakes indicate increased chlorophyll a and phytoplankton biomass, higher dominance of dinophytes and cyanobacteria (most notably of nitrogen fixing forms), but lower abundance of diatoms and chrysophytes, reduced size of copepods and cladocerans, and a tendency to reduced zooplankton biomass and zooplankton:phytoplankton biomass ratio when lakes warm. Higher P concentrations are also seen in warm arid lakes despite reduced external loading due to increased evapotranspiration and reduced inflow. Therefore, the critical loading for good ecological state in lakes has to be lowered in a future warmer climate. This calls for adaptation measures, which in the northern temperate zone should include improved P cycling in agriculture, reduced loading from point sources, and (re)-establishment of wetlands and riparian buffer zones. In the arid Southern Europe, restrictions on human use of water are also needed, not least on irrigation.

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