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Quantifying the extent of anthropogenic eutrophication of lakes at a national scale in New Zealand

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Jonathan M. Abell, Deniz Özkundakci, David P. Hamilton, Paul Van Dam-Bates, Richard W. Mcdowell

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Quantifying environmental changes relative to ecosystem reference conditions (baseline or natural states) can inform assessment of anthropogenic impacts and the development of restoration objectives and targets. We developed statistical models to predict current and reference concentrations of total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) in surface waters for a nationally representative sample of ≥1033 New Zealand lakes. The lake-specific nutrient concentrations reflected variation in factors including anthropogenic nutrient loads, hydrology, geology, elevation, climate, and lake and catchment morphology. Changes between reference and current concentrations were expressed to quantify the magnitude of anthropogenic eutrophication. Overall, there was a clear increase in lake trophic status, with the most common trophic status being oligotrophic under a reference state and mesotrophic under current conditions. The magnitude of departure from reference state varied considerably within the sample; however, on average, the mean TN concentration approximately doubled between reference and current states, whereas the mean TP concentration increased approximately 4-fold. This study quantified the extent of water quality degradation across lake types at a national scale, thereby informing ecological restoration objectives and the potential to reduce anthropogenic nutrient loads, while also providing a modeling framework that can be applied to lakes elsewhere.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9439-9452
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

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