Diatom responses to warming, heavy rains and human impact in a Mediterranean lake since the preindustrial period

Sci Total Environ. 2023 Aug 1:884:163685. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163685. Epub 2023 Apr 25.


In the Mediterranean region, annual mean air temperature will continue to increase during the 21st century, while seasonal precipitation is expected to decrease and extreme events to be more frequent. Human-induced climate change will severely impact aquatic ecosystems. A subdecadal stratigraphic diatom record of Lake Montcortès (central Pyrenees) was investigated, focusing on the potential responses of diatoms to anthropogenic warming and catchment alteration. The study includes the end of the Little Ice Age (LIA), the transition to the industrial and postindustrial eras, and the recent global warming and its current acceleration. Sediment samples were treated and diatoms taxonomically identified. Relationships between diatom taxa abundances and climatic (temperature and precipitation) and environmental (land use, soil erosion, and eutrophication) variables were investigated using multivariate statistical methods. The results indicate that, from ca. 1716 to 1971 CE, the diatom community was dominated by Cyclotella cyclopuncta and showed small perturbations, despite the pressure of important stressors such as strong cooling episodes, droughts and an intense use of the lake for hemp retting during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, during the 20th century, other centric species gained relevance, and from the 1970s on, Cyclotella ocellata competed with C. cyclopuncta for dominance. These changes coincided with pulse-like disturbances in the form of extreme rainfall events along with the gradual 20th century increase in global temperature. These perturbations affected the planktonic diatom community and led to instability dynamics. The benthic diatom community did not reflect any comparable shifts under the effect of the same climatic and environmental variables. Because heavy rainfall episodes are likely to intensify with current climate change in the Mediterranean region, their importance as stressors of planktonic primary producers should be taken into account as potential disrupters of biogeochemical cycles and trophic networks of lakes and ponds.

Keywords: Alternative stable states; Anthropogenic impacts; Climate change; Extreme events; Little Ice Age; Resilience.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropogenic Effects
  • Biodiversity
  • Diatoms* / physiology
  • Ecosystem
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Humans
  • Lakes
  • Plankton
  • Rain
  • Temperature