Is it possible to study palaeoenvironmental changes in Alpine spring habitats? A few examples from the south-eastern Alps (NE Italy)
AbstractPalaeolimnological techniques were applied to spring habitats in the Trentino Region (NE Italy) as a test in order to reconstruct past environmental changes in these crucial and fragile milieus. Three different sites were selected from a database of more than one hundred on the basis of morphological, geological, and biological factors, including human impact evaluation: Nambrone, Paul and Madonnina Val Lomasona. Sampling was performed by adapting standard lake-sediment coring methods, and the retrieved sediment was described and subsampled following standard "lake" procedures. Field work and sedimentological analyses revealed clear influence from nearby fluvial environment for the Nambrone site, whereas Paul and Madonnina Val Lomasona were selected for further analyses (e.g., dating, diatoms, chironomids). Lead-210 and Caesium-137 dating methods were used to obtain a chronological framework, in addition to historical information on land use and other events in the area. The upper part of the Paul sequence presented organic rich sediment compatible with spring environments, but the lower and essentially detrital part appeared to record alluvial deposition, probably linked to extraordinary flood events (1882, 1966). This interpretation is indirectly confirmed by the records of the fallout nuclides Caesium-137 and Lead-210, that were both unfortunately concentrated in the topmost 1 cm, making it impossible to construct a normal age-depth profile. Madonnina Val Lomasona sedimentological and biological indicators point to a marked change around ca 5 cm, dividing the sequence in two units, corresponding to different environmental conditions. Although the interpretation of the dating results is not completely straightforward, the assembled data suggest that the upper 5 cm of the record represents ca the last 50 years. During this period we found typical limnocrenic, clear-water spring conditions, while before 1960s the coexistence of lotic and lentic chironomid species including several opportunistic ones and the low richness, emphasized the presence of a disturbance (e.g., highly variable flow and/or trophic conditions), as confirmed also by diatom assemblages and sedimentological features. The recorded disturbance is probably linked to a water-level change due to the local land use, as also testified by historical data. The results of this study support the idea that carefully selected spring sites might be approached with adapted palaeolimnological techniques to extract valuable palaeoenvironmental information. However, it also highlighted the low percentage of "good sites" (1%) and considerable difficulties in coring and sampling without disturbing the sediment.
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