A comparison of diatom phosphorus transfer functions and export coefficient models as tools for reconstructing lake nutrient histories

H. Bennion, P. Johnes, R. Ferrier, G. Phillips, E. Haworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


1. We compared the baseline phosphorus (P) concentrations inferred by diatom-P transfer functions and export coefficient models at 62 lakes in Great Britain to assess whether the techniques produce similar estimates of historical nutrient status. 2. There was a strong linear relationship between the two sets of values over the whole total P (TP) gradient (2-200 mu g TP L-1). However, a systematic bias was observed with the diatom model producing the higher values in 46 lakes (of which values differed by more than 10 mu g TP L-1 in 21). The export coefficient model gave the higher values in 10 lakes (of which the values differed by more than 10 mu g TP L-1 in only 4). 3. The difference between baseline and present-day TP concentrations was calculated to compare the extent of eutrophication inferred by the two sets of model output. There was generally poor agreement between the amounts of change estimated by the two approaches. The discrepancy in both the baseline values and the degree of change inferred by the models was greatest in the shallow and more productive sites. 4. Both approaches were applied to two lakes in the English Lake District where long-term P data exist, to assess how well the models track measured P concentrations since approximately 1850. There was good agreement between the pre-enrichment TP concentrations generated by the models. The diatom model paralleled the steeper rise in maximum soluble reactive P (SRP) more closely than the gradual increase in annual mean TP in both lakes. The export coefficient model produced a closer fit to observed annual mean TP concentrations for both sites, tracking the changes in total external nutrient loading. 5. A combined approach is recommended, with the diatom model employed to reflect the nature and timing of the in-lake response to changes in nutrient loading, and the export coefficient model used to establish the origins and extent of changes in the external load and to assess potential reduction in loading under different management scenarios. 6. However, caution must be exercised when applying these models to shallow lakes where the export coefficient model TP estimate will not include internal P loading from lake sediments and where the diatom TP inferences may over-estimate TP concentrations because of the high abundance of benthic taxa, many of which are poor indicators of trophic state.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1651-1670
Number of pages20
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Conference Information: Workshop on Ecological Effects of Reduced Nutrient Loading (Oligotrophication) on Lakes Silkeborg, DENMARK, JAN, 2003


  • diatom transfer functions eutrophication export coefficient models palaeolimnology phosphorus reference conditions restoration targets

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