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This paper presents a synoptic account of the most important results emerging from studies on the phytoplankton communities in the deep southern subalpine lakes Garda, Iseo, Como, Lugano and Maggiore (DSL) in the second half of the 1990s. At present, the trophogenic layers of these lakes are trophically different, ranging from the oligo-mesotrophy of lakes Maggiore and Garda to the meso-eutrophy of lakes Iseo and Lugano. The research confirmed the existence of a common pool of species developing in the DSL, as already suggested by early studies conducted on a seasonal basis from the end of the 1970s to the first half of the 1980s. However, multivariate analyses (Correspondence Analysis, CA, and a subsequent application of Non Metric Multidimensional Scaling) demonstrated that the species in this common pool were developing differently or exclusively along a geographic and a trophic gradient. The major differences in the geographic distribution were found between the easternmost lakes (Garda and Iseo) and those farthest to the West (Lugano and, partly, Maggiore), with intermediate characteristics in Lake Como. These differences were due mainly to changes in the dominance relationships and only secondarily to compositional changes. The detection of the ultimate causes of these differences should take into account other factors not considered in the paper (i.e. the specific analysis of the food webs, local climatic conditions, hydrology and seasonal input of nutrients). Despite the observed differences, common patterns in the sequence of seasonal assemblages in the DSL could be recognised and defined. The second gradient in the species distribution identified by CA was strongly correlated with the principal trophic descriptors (algal biomass and total phosphorus); this meant that the phytoplankton taxa could be ranked along a trophic spectrum, from oligotrophy to eutrophy. A brief examination of the main differences which have historically arisen with the progress of eutrophication in the DSL showed that the species identified in this study as being indicative of more eutrophic conditions were increasing in importance in some of the lakes.
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