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Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Nov 7;279(1746):4322-33. Epub 2012 Aug 22.

The dilemma of controlling cultural eutrophication of lakes.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


The management of eutrophication has been impeded by reliance on short-term experimental additions of nutrients to bottles and mesocosms. These measures of proximate nutrient limitation fail to account for the gradual changes in biogeochemical nutrient cycles and nutrient fluxes from sediments, and succession of communities that are important components of whole-ecosystem responses. Erroneous assumptions about ecosystem processes and lack of accounting for hysteresis during lake recovery have further confused management of eutrophication. I conclude that long-term, whole-ecosystem experiments and case histories of lake recovery provide the only reliable evidence for policies to reduce eutrophication. The only method that has had proven success in reducing the eutrophication of lakes is reducing input of phosphorus. There are no case histories or long-term ecosystem-scale experiments to support recent claims that to reduce eutrophication of lakes, nitrogen must be controlled instead of or in addition to phosphorus. Before expensive policies to reduce nitrogen input are implemented, they require ecosystem-scale verification. The recent claim that the 'phosphorus paradigm' for recovering lakes from eutrophication has been 'eroded' has no basis. Instead, the case for phosphorus control has been strengthened by numerous case histories and large-scale experiments spanning several decades.

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