Climate-induced input of turbid glacial meltwater affects vertical distribution and community composition of phyto- and zooplankton

Samuel Hylander, Therese Jephson, Karen Lebret, Jessica von Einem, Tony Fagerberg, Esteban Balseiro, Beatriz Modenutti, Maria Sol Souza, Cecilia Laspoumaderes, Mikael Jönsson, Peter Ljungberg, Alice Nicolle, Per Anders Nilsson, Lynn Ranåker, Lars-Anders Hansson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Receding glaciers are among the most obvious changes caused by global warming, and glacial meltwater entering lakes generally forms plumes of particles. By taking vertical samples along a horizontal gradient from such a particle source, we found that photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and ultraviolet radiation (UVR) attenuated 20-25% faster close to the inflow of suspended particles compared with the more transparent part of the gradient. All sampled stations had a deep chlorophyll a (Chl a) maximum at 15-20 m which was more distinct in the transparent part of the horizontal gradient. Picocyanobacteria increased in abundance in more transparent water and their numbers were tightly correlated with the intensity of the deep Chl a maxima. Motile species of phytoplankton had a deeper depth distribution in transparent versus less transparent water. Yet other species, like Chrysochromulina parva, that can withstand high PAR intensities and low nutrient concentrations, increased in abundance as the water became more transparent. Also copepods increased in abundance, indicating that they are more successful in transparent water. We conclude that sediment input into lakes creates horizontal gradients in PAR and UVR attenuation which strongly affect both distribution and behavior of phyto-and zooplankton. The input of glacial flour creates a sub-habitat that can function as a refuge for species that are sensitive to high PAR and UVR exposure. When the glacier has vanished, this habitat may disappear. During the melting period, with heavy sediment input, we predict that competitive species in transparent waters, like Chrysocromulina, picocyanobacteria and copepods, will become less common. The deep Chl a maxima is also likely to become less developed. Hence, glacier melting will probably have profound effects on both species composition and behavior of several planktonic taxa with potential effects on the food web.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1239-1248
JournalJournal of Plankton Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology

Free keywords

  • glacier melting
  • transparency
  • zooplankton
  • phytoplankton
  • community
  • composition
  • vertical migration
  • UVR
  • PAR


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