Biological responses to the reversal of acidification in surface waters of the English Lake District

Tipping, E., Bass, J.A.B., Hardie, D., Haworth, E.Y., Hurley, Margaret Anne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2502-432X and Wills, G. (2002) Biological responses to the reversal of acidification in surface waters of the English Lake District. Environmental Pollution, 116 (1). pp. 137-146. ISSN 0269-7491

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Declining sulphur deposition since the late 1970s has led to increases in pH in lakes and streams of the English Lake District (Cumbria, UK). To determine whether there have been biological responses to the chemical changes, we carried out surveys of stream macroinvertebrates and lake surface sediment diatoms, and compared the results with those from earlier surveys. Macroinvertebrate taxa in five streams (current average pH range 5.1–7.0) sampled in 1999 showed clear changes from those found during 1965/1966 and 1972. For three of the streams, more taxa were present in 1999 than recorded using comparable sampling methods in the 1960s and 1970s, despite lower numbers of individuals being recovered in 1999. Values of the Margalef diversity index could be calculated for both 1965–1972 and 1999 for four of the streams; the index was significantly greater in 1999 (P<0.001) in three streams, and unchanged in one stream (the most acid). The 1999 survey revealed the presence of acid-sensitive taxa that had been absent in the earlier surveys, notably the three stoneflies Leuctra fusca, L. moselyi and Chloroperla tripunctata. Some taxa that had been present during 1965–1972 were absent in 1999, but few of these were acid-sensitive. Diatoms from the surface sediments of six lakes were classified according to their acid sensitivities. In three of the lakes sampled in 1999 there were more diatoms characteristic of circumneutral waters, and less acidophilic species than had been found in 1983–1985. In the remaining three lakes, no noticeable changes had occurred. Overall, the observed biological changes are qualitatively as expected for the observed increases in pH, and there have been no instances of biological change in the opposite direction. The results support the expectation that changes in freshwater ecological status can be reversed by decreasing the remote emissions of acidifying pollutants.

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