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Differences in food web structure and composition between new and nearby older lakes in West Greenland suggest succession trajectories driven by glacier retreat

New publication by Jeppesen E, Davidson TA, Meerhoff M, De Meester L, González-Bergonzoni I, Vidal N et al.


With the retreat of glaciers, new ponds and lakes are often formed. These are gradually colonised and become more productive as vegetation develops in their catchments, creating more complex food webs. Near the Jakobshavn Isbræ in West Greenland, we studied trophic structure and food web complexity using stable isotopes in 26 lakes belonging to two different age groups (19 new lakes and 7 nearby older (> 150 years) ones). The older lakes had significantly higher total nitrogen and pelagic chlorophyll-a concentrations, as well as a higher organic matter content in the surface sediment. The biomass and richness of cladocerans, copepods and rotifers were higher in the older lakes and so was the zooplankton:phytoplankton biomass ratio. Multivariate analyses showed a marked difference between the zooplankton communities of new and older lakes. Layman food web metrics indicated higher food chain length and width of invertebrates (zooplankton and benthic macroinvertebrates) in the older lakes, being significantly higher in lakes with fish. Our findings highlight a potential sequence of succession occurring in lakes created by glacial retreat in the Arctic, implying an increase in food web complexity and higher taxonomic (and likely also functional) diversity following ageing and increased nutrient state.