Lake and watershed characteristics rather than climate influence nutrient limitation in shallow lakes

Sarian Kosten, Vera L.M. Huszar, Néstor Mazzeo, Marten Scheffer, Leonel DA S.L. Sternberg, Erik Jeppesen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) can limit primary production in shallow lakes, but it is still debated how the importance of N and P varies in time and space. We sampled 83 shallow lakes along a latitudinal gradient (5°-55° S) in South America and assessed the potential nutrient limitation using different methods including nutrient ratios in sediment, water, and seston, dissolved nutrient concentrations, and occurrence of N-fixing cyanobacteria. We found that local characteristics such as soil type and associated land use in the catchment, hydrology, and also the presence of abundant submerged macrophyte growth influenced N and P limitation. We found neither a consistent variation in nutrient limitation nor indications for a steady change in denitrification along the latitudinal gradient. Contrary to findings in other regions, we did not find a relationship between the occurrence of (N-fixing and non-N-fixing) cyanobacteria and the TN:TP ratio. We found N-fixing cyanobacteria (those with heterocysts) exclusively in lakes with dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations of < 100 μg/L, but notably they were also often absent in lakes with low DIN concentrations. We argue that local factors such as land use and hydrology have a stronger influence on which nutrient is limiting than climate. Furthermore, our data show that in a wide range of climates N limitation does not necessarily lead to cyanobacterial dominance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1791-1804
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Cyanobacteria
  • Denitrification
  • Grazing pressure
  • Latitudinal gradient
  • Nitrogen fixing
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Shallow lakes
  • South america

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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