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Reconstruction of the recent history of a large deep prealpine lake (Lake Bourget, France) using subfossil chironomids, diatoms, and organic matter analysis: Towards the definition of a lake-specific reference state

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Publication details

JournalJournal of paleolimnology
DateE-pub ahead of print - 26 Sep 2010
DatePublished (current) - Dec 2010
Issue number4
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)963-978
Early online date26/09/10
Original languageEnglish


This paper presents the recent history of a large prealpine lake (Lake Bourget) using chironomids, diatoms and organic matter analysis, and deals with the ability of paleolimnological approach to define an ecological reference state for the lake in the sense of the European Framework Directive. The study at low resolution of subfossil chironomids in a 4-m-long core shows the remarkable stability over the last 2.5kyrs of the profundal community dominated by a Micropsectra-association until the beginning of the twentieth century, when oxyphilous taxa disappeared. Focusing on this key recent period, a high resolution and multiproxy study of two short cores reveals a progressive evolution of the lake's ecological state. Until AD 1880, Lake Bourget showed low organic matter content in the deep sediments (TOC less than 1%) and a well-oxygenated hypolimnion that allowed the development of a profundal oxyphilous chironomid fauna (Micropsectra-association). Diatom communities were characteristic of oligotrophic conditions. Around AD 1880, a slight increase in the TOC was the first sign of changes in lake conditions. This was followed by a first limited decline in oligotrophic diatom taxa and the disappearance of two oxyphilous chironomid taxa at the beginning of the twentieth century. The 1940s were a major turning point in recent lake history. Diatom assemblages and accumulation of well preserved planktonic organic matter in the sediment provide evidence of strong eutrophication. The absence of profundal chironomid communities reveals permanent hypolimnetic anoxia. From AD 1995 to 2006, the diatom assemblages suggest a reduction in nutrients, and a return to mesotrophic conditions, a result of improved wastewater management. However, no change in hypolimnion benthic conditions has been shown by either the organic matter or the subfossil chironomid profundal community. Our results emphasize the relevance of the paleolimnological approach for the assessment of reference conditions for modern lakes. Before AD 1900, the profundal Micropsectra-association and the Cyclotella dominated diatom community can be considered as the Lake Bourget reference community, which reflects the reference ecological state of the lake.

    Research areas

  • Chironomids, Diatoms, European framework directive, Eutrophication, Paleolimnology, Reference state

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