Linking species- and ecosystem-level impacts of climate change in lakes with a complex and a minimal model

W.M. Mooij*, L.N. de Senerpont Domis, J.H. Janse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


To study the interaction between species- and ecosystem-level impacts of climate change, we focus on the question of how climate-induced shifts in key species affect the positive feedback loops that lock shallow lakes either in a transparent, macrophyte-dominated state or, alternatively, in a turbid, phytoplankton-dominated state. We hypothesize that climate warming will weaken the resilience of the macrophyte-dominated clear state. For the turbid state, we hypothesize that climate warming and climate-induced eutrophication will increase the dominance of cyanobacteria. Climate change will also affect shallow lakes through a changing hydrology and through climate change-induced eutrophication. We study these phenomena using two models, the full ecosystem model PCLake and a minimal dynamic model of lake phosphorus dynamics. Quantitative predictions with the complex model show that changes in nutrient loading, hydraulic loading and climate warming can all lead to shifts in ecosystem state. The minimal model helped in interpreting the non-linear behaviour of the complex model. The main output parameters of interest for water quality managers are the critical nutrient loading at which the system will switch from clear to turbid and the much lower critical nutrient loading - due to hysteresis - at which the system switches back. Another important output parameter is the chlorophyll-a level in the turbid state. For each of these three output parameters we performed a sensitivity analysis to further understand the dynamics of the complex model PCLake. This analysis showed that our model results are most sensitive to changes in temperature-dependence of cyanobacteria, planktivorous fish and zooplankton. We argue that by combining models at various levels of complexity and looking at multiple aspects of climate changes simultaneously we can develop an integrated view of the potential impact of climate change on freshwater ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3011-3020
Number of pages10
JournalEcological modelling
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes
Event6th European conference on ecological modelling, ECEM 2007: Challenges for ecological modelling in a changing world: global changes, sustainability and ecosystem based management - Trieste, Italy
Duration: 27 Nov 200730 Nov 2007
Conference number: 6


  • Climate change
  • Freshwater ecosystems
  • PCLake
  • Predictive modelling
  • Regime shifts
  • n/a OA procedure


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