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Title: Long term changes in aquatic plant communities in English lowland lakes
Author: Madgwick, Genevieve
ISNI:       0000 0004 2736 1375
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2009
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This thesis looks into the use of historical macrophyte records to assess long term changes in macrophyte communities in lakes and potential reasons for these changes. In particular it uses historical records to assess changes in macrophyte communities in the Norfolk Broads and West Midland Meres, two sets of lowland, eutrophic lakes in England. It provides a critical examination of the use of historical records, highlighting some of the constraints common to such data such as variations in recording effort, and bias in species recording and site selection. Having acknowledged these issues we then go on to develop a robust way to interpret such data, using a “change index” based on species persistence over the last 200 years within individual lakes. Species with high change index values, which represented species which had persisted or increased within the lake districts, were those known to be characteristic of eutrophic lakes. Conversely species with low index scores, which had declined in both the broads and meres over the last 200 years, included species associated with less fertile conditions but also a selection of typically eutrophic species. Averaging of change index scores in present day survey data served to identify the historically least changed lakes and to rank lakes in order of degree of botanical change over the last century. We then analysed the ecological basis of the change index in order to better understand the processes behind the decline of some species and survival of others in the Norfolk Broads and West Midland Meres. Functional groups determined from morphological and regenerative traits displayed significant differences in change index values in both groups of lakes, but declining taxa occurred across a wide range of plant growth forms. Non-hierarchical clustering of species based on their ecological preferences, obtained from published literature, resulted in groups with distinct change index values, indicating that changes in the status of species could be partly explained by these preferences. Of these, trophic preference was consistently the most important, with species of less fertile habitats consistently experiencing the greatest declines. However, some characteristically eutrophic species have also declined significantly, particularly in the broads. In these cases increasing loss of shallow water, low energy habitats in the broads, or loss of fluctuating water levels and less alkaline backwaters in the meres, appear to have been contributory factors. In addition to the change index approach, we also used historical records at a site level to complement palaeolimnological analysis and investigate the change in macrophyte community composition and structure at Barton Broad, Norfolk. Sediment samples were extracted from the bottom of the broad and analysed for sub-fossil remains and pollen of macrophytes. The historical records and palaeolimnological analysis combined showed that early communities did not consist entirely of low growing, oligotrophic and mesotrophic species as previously thought, but in fact comprised a mixture of these and other more characteristically high nutrient species associated with taller, or free-floating growth habit. As eutrophication progressed throughout the last century, the community was increasingly dominated by these latter growth forms. Diversity was maintained, however, since encroaching reedswamp generated a mosaic of low energy habitats which supported a range of species unable to withstand the hydraulic forces associated with more open water habitat. When the reedswamp disappeared in the 1950s, many of the dependent aquatic macrophytes also declined resulting in widespread macrophyte loss. The thesis demonstrates not just the complexities of using historical records, but also ways in which these can be overcome to make useful observations about macrophyte community change and lake ecological integrity to inform conservation and lake management, both on a site and lake district level.
Supervisor: Willby, Nigel; Sayer, Carl Sponsor: Environment Agency ; Stirling University ; English Nature ; Broads Authority
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: lake ; broad ; macrophyte ; Barton ; mere ; aquatic plant ; eutrophication ; historical records ; Plant communities ; Aquatic plants ; Lakes England ; Broads, The (England)