INTRODUCTION TO LENTIC ECOSYSTEMS

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1 INTRODUCTION TO LENTIC ECOSYSTEMS The term lentic refers to standing bodies of water such as lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. Many of the lakes in North America formed as a result of glacial erosion, when basins carved in the bedrock filled with water as the glaciers retreated. Geologic events such as mountain building or rock displacement can also result in water filled basins. Sunken craters (calderas) of extinct volcanoes can form lakes. Lakes in Texas are mostly the result of man s activities. Dams constructed on rivers impound the water forming reservoirs. Lakes can be divided into both horizontal and vertical zones based upon light penetration, temperature, and chemical characteristics. Associated with them are a variety of biological communities. The morphology of the basin often determines which zones are present and their extent. Zones based on Light Penetration The littoral zone is the region near the shore where sufficient light reaches the bottom to support rooted plants. In many shallow lakes and ponds this zone may extend completely across the basin. There are usually distinct community associations within the littoral region. Near the shoreline there is the zone of emergent vegetation. This region is usually dominated by grasses, rushes, and sedges. Cat-tail and arrowhead are also common. The plants of the emergent zone utilize atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen. Minerals and water however are derived from the lake substrate. As depth increases, a transition to plants with long stems or petioles, and floating leaves occurs. This marks the zone of floating vegetation. This community includes water lily and pondweed. Localized masses of spongy tissue aid in buoyancy. Stomata are restricted primarily to 1

2 the upper surface of the leaves where they have access to atmospheric gases. Absorption of ions takes place on the underneath side of the leaf. The innermost region of the littoral zone forms the zone of submersed vegetation. These plants may be considered to be truely aquatic, deriving their gases from the water. Prominent submersed vegetation include stonewart, hornwort, milfoil, waterweed, and the introduced plant hydrilla. Within the littoral region there are usually a number of non-rooted free-floating hydrophytes. Water fern, duckweed, and water hyacinth are examples. Free-floating plants derive their nutrients from the water. The limnetic zone is the area of open water bounded by the littoral region. That part of the limnetic region which possesses sufficient sunlight for photosynthesis to exceed respiration (P>R) is called the trophogenic zone. The tropholytic zone is the part of the limnetic region where respiration is greater than productivity (P<R). This region is also known as the profundal zone. This typically contains the colder, darker, poorer oxygenated deep water of a lake. Relatively few organisms are adapted to the deeper profundal regions. The border between these is the compensation point, the depth at which light intensity results in P=R. Zones based on Temperature Stratification Lakes and larger ponds experience seasonal shifts in temperature. The heating and cooling of surface waters changes temperatures throughout the basin. In late spring and early summer increased solar radiation and warmer air temperatures heat surface waters faster than deep water. The surface water becomes lighter as its temperature rises. Inevitably a layer of lighter, warm water forms on top of a denser cooler layer. When this 2

3 happens the lake has stratified. The upper most region of warm circulating water is called the epilimnion. The deeper, colder, and relatively undisturbed bottom waters are called the hypolimnion. This region corresponds roughly to the profundal zone. The zone of rapid temperature change between the two is called the metalimnion. The temperature decline within the metalimnion is called a thermocline. The thermocline acts as a barrier between the warmer water above and the colder water below. Deprived of the oxygen rich waters above, the nutrient rich hypolimnion often becomes anoxic. This time of oxygen depletion continues throughout stratification. As surface waters cool in late fall and winter, the density barrier between the epilimnion and hypolimnion disappears. As the two begin to mix oxygen rich water is carried downward and nutrient rich water upwards. This is described as the fall overturn, and it often results in a photosynthetic explosion in the trophogenic zone. The rapid increase in algae is referred to as a bloom. Lakes such as this are classified as warm monomictic, which means that they have one mixing period. This period occurs during the cooler months, with stratification present from late spring to early fall. Warm monomictic lakes are typical of subtropical regions in which the temperature of the water rarely falls below 4 o C at any depth. Dimictic lakes have two mixing periods, one in spring and fall. These temperate-zone lakes are often characterized as the typical lake. A dimictic lake, like a warm monomictic lake, stratifies during the warm months. The onset of cold weather destroys stratification and complete circulation occurs. The result, a fall overturn. On some cool, calm night enough heat is lost, to cause the surface waters to cool to the freezing point and a film of ice forms. This begins a period of winter stagnation when wind 3

4 induced circulation is impossible. With the warming of spring the ice melts, and the lake is exposed to wind action. A spring overturn occurs, with circulation continuing until the summer stratification. One of the most important factors affecting stratification is the distance over the surface of the lake that wind can blow unimpeded. This is mostly a function of lake size, shape, and orientation to prevailing winds. For example, a small lake will tend to stratify sooner and remain stratified longer than a larger lake. Feature Larger Lake Smaller Lake occurrence of stratification later earlier periods of stratification shorter longer winter ice cover shorter longer winter ice thinner or absent thicker Classification based on Productivity or Trophic Status One system for classifying bodies of water is based on their productivity. This measures their relative nutrient richness and is the trophic basis of classification. Oligotrophic lakes contain very low concentrations of those nutrients required for plant growth and thus the overall productivity of these lakes is low. With so little production of organic matter, there is very little accumulation of organic sediment on the bottom of oligotrophic lakes. With little organic matter there are only small populations of bacteria and thus very little consumption of oxygen from the deeper waters. One typical measure of an oligotrophic lake is that it has lots of oxygen from surface to bottom. The lack of nutrients in the water column reduces the number of algae so water clarity is good. Eutrophic lakes are at the other end of the spectrum. They are rich in plant nutrients and thus their productivity is high. They produce large numbers of suspended algae which result in reduced water clarity. Much of this organic matter drifts to the bottom and provides food for bacteria that can use up much or all of the oxygen from the lower depths of these lakes. Thus, one characteristic of eutrophic lakes is periodic depletion of oxygen from the lower waters. 4

5 Feature Oligotrophic Eutrophic depth deep shallow <10m surface/volume low high littoral zone narrow broad nutrient input low high productivity low high trophogenic zone deep shallow water clarity clear Secchi disk >10m turbid Secchi disk <3m hypolimnion oxygenated anoxic species diversity high low 5

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