TitleAnnual precipitation regulates spatial and temporal drivers of lake water clarity
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsRose, KC, Greb, SR, Diebel, M, Turner, MG
JournalEcological Applications
Pagination632 - 643
ISBN Number1939-5582
Keywordsland use, land-water interactions, landscape ecology, precipitation, remote sensing, Water quality

Understanding how and why lakes vary and respond to different drivers through time and space is needed to understand, predict, and manage freshwater quality in an era of rapidly changing land use and climate. Water clarity regulates many characteristics of aquatic ecosystems and is responsive to watershed features, making it a sentinel of environmental change. However, whether precipitation alters the relative importance of features that influence lake water clarity or the spatial scales at which they operate is unknown. We used a dataset of thousands of north temperate lakes and asked: (1) How does water clarity differ between a very wet versus dry year? (2) Does the relative importance of different watershed features, or the spatial extent at which they are measured, vary between wet and dry years? (3) What lake and watershed characteristics regulate long-term water clarity trends? Among lakes, water clarity was reduced and less variable in the wet year than in the dry year; furthermore, water clarity was reduced much more in high-clarity lakes during the wet year than in low-clarity lakes. Climate, land use/land cover, and lake morphometry explained most variance in clarity among lakes in both years, but the spatial scales at which some features were important differed between the dry and wet years. Watershed percent agriculture was most important in the dry year, whereas riparian zone percent agriculture (around each lake and upstream features) was most important in the wet year. Between 1991 and 2012, water clarity declined in 23% of lakes and increased in only 6% of lakes. Conductance influenced the direction of temporal trend (clarity declined in lakes with low conductance), whereas the proportion of watershed wetlands, catchment-to-lake-area ratio, and lake maximum depth interacted with antecedent precipitation. Many predictors of water clarity, such as lake depth and landscape position, are features that cannot be readily managed. Given trends of increasing precipitation, eliminating riparian zone agriculture or keeping it <10% of area may be an effective option to maintain or improve water clarity.