Considering sub-basins in the spatio-temporal dynamics of lake food webs

Jonathan J. Borrelli, Matthew S. Schuler, William D. Hintz, Brian Mattes, Candace Schermerhorn, Erika Yates, Lawrence W. Eichler, Mark A. Lucius, Laurie Ahrens, Rick A. Relyea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dynamics of populations in lake food webs are driven by a combination of spatial, environmental, and trophic processes. Differences among taxa in their ability to disperse and respond to the environment impact the food web and will be reflected in their abundances over time at different sites within a lake. The level of synchrony among lake sub-basins (within and across populations in a lake) is critical for determining the importance of spatial resolution when sampling and developing models. Using 7 years of survey data in Lake George, New York State (USA), we provide a high-level overview of changes in the densities of key food web groups over time (phytoplankton, zooplankton, and macroinvertebrates) and the synchrony of their dynamics among sub-basins. Phytoplankton biomass (measured as chlorophyll a) and zooplankton densities showed strong seasonal and multi-year trends that were synchronous across space within each group. Several macroinvertebrate groups showed significant non-linear multi-year trends, but synchrony was lower. For phytoplankton and some macroinvertebrate groups, we found that densities were highest in the South Basin, likely reflecting the gradient of decreasing nutrients in the lake from south to north. Collectively, these results suggest that modeling the food web using sub-basins is a useful scale for better understanding species dynamics in large lakes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalAquatic Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Freshwater
  • Lake food web
  • Population dynamics
  • Spatial heterogeneity
  • Synchrony
  • Time-series


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