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1. What can lake sediments tell us about the past?

2) How severe of a drought was the Dust Bowl?

3) How are diapausing eggs used to reconstruct ecological and evolutionary patterns?

Lake sediments are relatively stable records of dynamic ecosystems

Paleoecologists use sediment cores as a record of past events

After documenting the pattern, focus on the processes behind the pattern

Can be long-term (tens of thousands of years) changes in climate, watershed vegetation or lake productivity

Or can be shorter time scale (decades, centuries) to reconstruct past ecological or evolutionary processes

New lake sediment is created over time

Extract a core of the sediment from the lake bottom.

The core can be only a few centimeters long or over a kilometer, depending on the question.

Deeper in the sediment = older

In the core, track changes in:

Inorganic chemistry (N, P) Pollen byFamiliesAll-in-1.html ~gtamaska/diatom.html

Diatom frustules

In the core, track changes in:

Pigmentsmostly degraded pigments such as pheophytin 77_spongilla_spicules_40x.jpg

Animal partssponge spicules, midge head capsules overview/overview.asp

Dormant eggs or cysts

Dating of sediment: Known historical event e.g. volcano

Annual varvesalternation of light and dark bands in the sediment

Isotopes14C, 210Pb, 137Cs

Annual varves (laminations) are an alternation of a dark organic layer and a light colored layer of calcium carbonate

Remember from lecture on carbon, warm water and high photosynthesis can cause a precipitation of calcium carbonate. This precipitate can remain in suspension and cause the lakes to look milky, called whiting

Eventually, the precipitate settles to the sediment

Isotope Analysis:

is created naturally from cosmic radiation 14N + (neutron) => 14C and 1H

Decays to 14N with the emission of a Betaparticle (electron) with a half life of ~5700 years

Isotope Analysis:

is incorporated in 14CO2

14CO 2

is used in photosynthesis

When the phytoplankton die, they sink to the sediments


decays back to 14N

Should be able to go back 75,000 years, but technical difficulties limit that to about 40,000

But many lakes are not that old anyway, so not a problem.

Since has such a long half life, it is difficult to get good dates on recent sediments.

For recent sediments, use 210Pb, which is also created naturally from cosmic radiation.

Half-life is 22.6 years, can go back about 150 years. TILPHTML/Pb210.html

Cesium-137Cs In the atmosphere since 1950s because of atomic bomb testing

Some use the Chernobyl spike (1986) to date recent sediments

Davis, M. 1969. Ecology

Sediment from Rogers Lake, CT used to examine post-glaciation re-vegetation


Davis, M. 1969. Ecology

Relatively low pollen deposition rates 14,000-12,000 years ago reflects tundra vegetation with few trees
11,000 Spruce, pine dominated, some birch and oak 9,000 spruce mostly gone pine, birch, some oak 8,000 - pine declined, deciduous became dominant, immigration of beech, hickory, chestnut, maple

Laird et al. 1996, 1998

Sediments from Moon Lake, ND used to reconstruct regional climate patterns

Diatoms live in freshwater and salt water, but each species has a very specific salinity optimum SWCS/PALEO/bc-46.html

The depth of lakes in the Great Plains fluctuates with regional climate patterns


In dry years, the lake levels are lower and salinity is higher. In wet years, more freshwater input, less saline lesson_19/uwio18381.html

Laird et al. 1996, 1998

The extreme drought of the Dust Bowl era (1930s) covered 65% of the continental USA Results from the sediment record suggest that historically, droughts were more frequent and more intense

Hairston et al. 1999, 2001.

Response to eutrophication of Lake Constance Increasing population around the lakeshore resulted in cultural eutrophication images/lgimages/microcy3.jpg

Microcystis appeared in the mid 1960s and became abundant in the 1970s

International law reduced phosphorus input beginning in 1978

Response to eutrophication of Lake Constance images/lgimages/microcy3.jpg

The Microcystis in the lake was toxic to Daphnia, but some clones were more susceptible to the effects of the toxin than others .../zooplankton.htm

Can estimate susceptibility by growing Daphnia in good food and bad food conditions Ask the question, how much is growth rate reduced on the bad food, relative to the good food?

Can get genotypes of Daphnia from the past out of the sediment of the lake .../zooplankton.htm

Weider et al. 1997

Response of Daphnia to eutrophication of Lake Constance

Post eutrophication (After 1992)

Peak eutrophication (1978-1980)

Pre-eutrophication (before 1972) 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 Growth rate reduction
Small decrease in growth rate Low susceptibility to the toxin Large decrease in growth rate High susceptibility to the toxin

Concepts to know
How can lake sediments be used to address changes through time? How are lake sediments dated? What did the sediment core from Rogers Lake, CT demonstrate? Is North America likely to experience any severe droughts in the near future? Can grazers adapt to changes in their environment?

Practice Question

Please explain how diatoms can be used to reconstruct past climate patterns. A complete answer will address both the general factors of how microfossils are used to reconstruct past patterns, and the specifics of how diatoms are used to reconstruct past climate patterns.