Phytoplankton assemblages in Lake Orta: has functional structure recovered in one of the largest acidic lakes in the world?

  • Giuseppe Morabito | National Research Council, Institute of Ecosystem Study, Italy.


Lake Orta (Northern Italy) became one of the world’s largest acidic lakes, following industrial pollution, beginning in the late 1920s. Prior to pollution, Lake Orta supported a rich and diversified phytoplankton community dominated by diatoms, cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates. Their taxonomic composition was comparable to that of the nearby Lake Maggiore, which provides a useful reference comparison. After pollution, Lake Orta was so acidic and contaminated with trace metals that only a few tolerant phytoplankton species persisted, supplemented by sudden and short living outbursts of occasional colonists. The lake was limed in 1989-1990. This has permitted the gradual recovery of its chemistry and biology, and many phytoplankton species that inhabit Lake Maggiore are now re-appearing in Lake Orta. I tested the two hypotheses that Lakes Orta and Maggiore would now have a similar phytoplankton taxonomic assemblages, and similar diversity of functional groups given their similar morphometry, physical features and trophic states. The two hypotheses were tested by comparing the phytoplankton assemblages of lakes Maggiore and Orta for the first 10 years after liming, i.e. 1990 to 2001. Phytoplankton was classified according the Reynolds' Morpho Functional Groups and five diversity indices were calculated (S, number of units; H, Shannon-Wiener; E, evenness; D, dominance; J, equitability). SHE analysis (an analysis of diversity changes based on the relationship among species richness (S), H Index (H) and evenness (E)) was also carried out, in order to compare the long term trend of both functional groups and taxa biodiversity. Both taxonomic and the functional composition differed in the two lakes, likely because chemical quality have played a role in taxaselection. Moreover, it was quite clear that, during the first post-liming decade, Lake Orta’s phytoplankton was characterized by low diversity and evenness and by marked year-to-year fluctuations. However, SHE analysis showed that the colonization rate was higher in Lake Orta than in Lake Maggiore, and that the environmental modifications caused by the liming were opening new ecological niches, allowing some colonists to thrive in the changing, albeit still unusual chemical environment of the lake.




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Author Biography

Giuseppe Morabito, National Research Council, Institute of Ecosystem Study



Lake Orta: a new lease on life
Phytoplankton, liming, functional groups, diversity, long-term trends.
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How to Cite
Morabito G. Phytoplankton assemblages in Lake Orta: has functional structure recovered in one of the largest acidic lakes in the world?. J Limnol [Internet]. 2016Apr.13 [cited 2021May7];75(s2). Available from: