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Nutrients and saltwater exchange as drivers of environmental change in a Danish brackish coastal lake over the past 100 years

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posted on 2023-05-02, 14:49 authored by Jonathan Lewis, David RyvesDavid Ryves, Martin Søndergaard, Torben Linding Lauridsen, Lisolette Sander Johansson, Sh Tserenpil, Peter Rasmussen, Erik Jeppesen
Many northwest European lake systems are suffering from the effects of eutrophication due to continued loading and/or poor, ineffective management strategies. Coastal brackish lakes are particularly difficult to manage due to complex nitrogen, phosphorus, and salinity dynamics that may exert varying influence on lake biological communities, but long-term data on how these important and often biodiverse systems respond to change are rare. In this study, palaeolimnological data (including sedimentary parameters, diatoms, and plant macrofossils) and environmental monitoring data (for the last ~40 years) have been used to assess environmental change over the last 100 years in Kilen, a brackish lake in northwest Jutland, Denmark. Kilen has been regularly monitored for salinity (since 1972), TP (from 1975), TN (from 1976), and since 1989 for biological data (phytoplankton, zooplankton, and macrophytes), which allows a robust comparison of contemporary and paleolimnological data at high temporal resolution. The palaeolimnological data indicate that the lake has been nutrient rich for the last 100 years, with eutrophication peaking from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. Reduced nutrient concentrations have occurred since the late 1990s, though this is not reflected in the sediment core diatom assemblage, highlighting that caution must be taken when using quantitative data from biological transfer functions in paleolimnology. Lake recovery over the last 20 years has been driven by a reduction in TN and TP loading from the catchment and shows improvements in the lake water clarity and, recently, in macrophyte cover. Reduced salinity after 2004 has also changed the composition of the dominant macrophyte community within the lake. The low N:P ratio indicates that in summer, the lake is predominately N-limited, likely explaining why previous management, mainly focusing on TP reduction measures, had a modest effect on the water quality of the lake. Despite a slight recovery, the lake is still nutrient-rich, and future management of this system must continue to reduce the nutrient loads of both TN and TP to ensure sustained recovery. This study provides an exceptional opportunity to validate the palaeolimnological record with monitoring data and demonstrates the power of using this combined approach in understanding environmental change in these key aquatic ecosystems.


Loughborough University

Struer municipality, Aage V. Jensen Nature Foundation, project “Vestlige Vejler”

TÜBIITAK program BIDEB2232 (project 118C250)

Poul Due Jensen Foundation



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Geography and Environment

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This article is an Open Access article published by MDPI and distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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Prof Dave Ryves. Deposit date: 23 April 2023

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