Dynamics of the stream-lake transitional zone affect littoral lake metabolism


Lake ecosystems, as integrators of watershed and climate stressors, are sentinels of change. However, there is an inherent time-lag between stressors and whole-lake response. Aquatic metabolism, including gross primary production (GPP) and respiration (R), of stream-lake transitional zones may bridge the time-lag of lake response to allochthonous inputs. In this study, we used high-frequency dissolved oxygen data and inverse modeling to estimate daily rates of summer epilimnetic GPP and R in a nutrient-limited oligotrophic lake at two littoral sites located near different major inflows and at a pelagic site. We examined the relative importance of stream variables in comparison to meteorological and in-lake predictors of GPP and R. One of the inflow streams was substantially warmer than the other and primarily entered the lake's epilimnion, whereas the colder stream primarily mixed into the metalimnion or hypolimnion. Maximum GPP and R rates were 0.2-2.5 mg O-2 L-1 day(-1) (9-670%) higher at littoral sites than the pelagic site. Ensemble machine learning analyses revealed that > 30% of variability in daily littoral zone GPP and R was attributable to stream depth and stream-lake transitional zone mixing metrics. The warm-stream inflow likely stimulated littoral GPP and R, while the cold-stream inflow only stimulated littoral zone GPP and R when mixing with the epilimnion. The higher GPP and R observed near inflows in our study may provide a sentinel-of-the-sentinel signal, bridging the time-lag between stream inputs and in-lake processing, enabling an earlier indication of whole-lake response to upstream stressors.



Ecosystem function, Machine learning, Littoral, Pelagic, GPP, R