Nutrient limitation of periphyton growth in arctic lakes in south-west Greenland

Many arctic lakes are oligotrophic systems where phototrophic growth is controlled by nutrient supply. Recent anthropogenic nutrient loading is associated with biological and/or physico-chemical change in several lakes across the arctic. Shifts in nutrient limitation (nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or N ? P) and associated effects on the growth and composition of algal communities are commonly reported. The Kangerlussuaq region of south-west Greenland forms a major lake district which is considered to receive little direct anthropogenic disturbance. However, long-range transport of pollutant N is now reaching Greenland, and it was hypothesised that a precipitation gradient from the inland ice sheet margin to the coast might also deliver increased N deposition. In situ nutrient bioassays were deployed in three lakes across the region: ice sheet margin, inland (close to Kangerlussuaq) and the coast (near Sisimiut), to determine nutrient limitation of lakes and investigate any effects of nutrients on periphyton growth and community composition. Nutrient limitation differed amongst lakes: N limitation (ice sheet margin), N and P limitation (inland) and N ? P co-limitation (coast). Factors including variation in N supply, ice phenology, seasonal algal succession, community structure and physical limnology are explored as mechanisms to explain differences amongst lakes. Nutrient limitation of arctic lakes and associated ecological impacts are highly variable, even across small geographic areas. In this highly sensitive region, future environmental change scenarios carry a strong risk of significantly altering nutrient limitation; in turn, potentially severely impacting lake structure and function.