A general conceptual watershed-lake model of the complex interactions among climatic conditions, watershed location and characteristics, lake morphology, and fish predation was used to evaluate limnological characteristics of high mountain lakes. Our main hypothesis was that decreasing elevation in mountainous terrain corresponds to an increase in diversity of watershed size and lake area, depth, temperature, nutrient concentrations, and productivity. A second hypothesis was that watershed location and aspect relative to climatic gradients within mountainous terrain influences the limnological characteristics of the lakes. We evaluated these hypotheses by examining watershed location, aspect and size; lake morphology; water quality; and phytoplankton and zooplankton community characteristics among high mountain forest and subalpine lakes in Mount Rainier National Park.
Although many of the comparisons between all forest and subalpine lakes were statistically insignificant, the results revealed trends that were consistent with our hypotheses. The forest lake group included more lakes with larger watersheds, larger surface areas, greater depths, higher concentrations of nutrients, and higher algal biovolumes than did the group of subalpine lakes. Deep lakes, which were mostly of the forest lake type, exhibited thermal stratification and relatively high values of some of the water-quality variables near the lake bottoms. However, the highest near-surface water temperatures and phytoplankton densities and the taxonomic structures of the phytoplankton and zooplankton assemblages were more closely related to geographical location, which corresponded to a west-east climate gradient in the park, than to lake type. Some crustacean and rotifer taxa, however, were limited in distribution by lake type.
Fish predation did not appear to play an important role in the structure of the crustacean zooplankton communities at the genus level with the exception of Mowich Lake, where crustacean taxa were absent from the zooplankton community. This was the only lake inhabited by a true zooplanktivourous species of fish.