We explored variability among subalpine lakes sharing very similar climate and atmospheric conditions, but differing in watershed characteristics, hydrology, and food web structure. Special attention was given to nitrogen (N) dynamics because the study area receives some of the highest levels of atmospheric N deposition in the Rocky Mountains. We asked if the effect of regional N deposition would be manifested uniformly among neighboring lakes both in terms of ambient conditions and responses to greater nutrient inputs. Catchment vegetation appeared to be the main determinant of ambient nitrate (NO3), phosphate (PO4), and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations, although in-lake differences in recycling produced variable and contrasting NH4 levels. Phytoplankton chlorophyll a temporarily responded to early season NO3 peaks in the lakes with rocky watersheds, but chlorophyll means over the ice-free season were remarkably similar among lakes despite differences in both nutrient supply and zooplankton grazing. In most cases, phosphorus was limiting to phytoplankton growth, although the importance of N deficiencies was greater in lakes with forested watersheds and fringing wetlands.
Additional publication details
Lake-specific responses to elevated atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, U.S.A.