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  1. Abstract

    Multiple studies have reported widespread browning of Northern Hemisphere lakes. Most examples are from boreal lakes that have experienced limited human influence, and browning has alternatively been attributed to changes in atmospheric deposition, climate, and land use. To determine the extent and possible causes of browning across a more geographically diverse region, we examined watercolor and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) time series in hundreds of northeastern U.S. lakes. The majority of lakes have increased in both DOC and color, but there were neither coherent spatial patterns in trends nor relationships with previously reported drivers. Color trends were more variable than DOC trends, and DOC and color trends were not strongly correlated, indicating a cause other than or in addition to increased loading of terrestrial carbon. Browning may be pronounced in regions where climate and atmospheric deposition are dominant drivers but muted in more human‐dominated landscapes with a limited extent of organic soils where other disturbances predominate.

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  2. Abstract Aim

    We aimed to measure the dominant spatial patterns in ecosystem properties (such as nutrients and measures of primary production) and the multi‐scaled geographical driver variables of these properties and to quantify how the spatial structure of pattern in all of these variables influences the strength of relationships among them.

    Location and time period

    We studied > 8,500 lakes in a 1.8 million km2area of Northeast U.S.A. Data comprised 10‐year medians (2002–2011) for measured ecosystem properties, long‐term climate averages and recent land use/land cover variables.

    Major taxa studied

    We focused on ecosystem properties at the base of aquatic food webs, including concentrations of nutrients and algal pigments that are proxies of primary productivity.


    We quantified spatial structure in ecosystem properties and their geographical driver variables using distance‐based Moran eigenvector maps (dbMEMs). We then compared the similarity in spatial structure for all pairs of variables with the correlation between variables to illustrate how spatial structure constrains relationships among ecosystem properties.


    The strength of spatial structure decreased in order for climate, land cover/use, lake ecosystem properties and lake and landscape morphometry. Having a comparable spatial structure is a necessary condition to observe a strong relationship between a pair of variables, but not a sufficient one; variables with very different spatial structure are never strongly correlated. Lake ecosystem properties tended to have an intermediary spatial structure compared with that of their main drivers, probably because climate and landscape variables with known ecological links induce spatial patterns.

    Main conclusion

    Our empirical results describe inherent spatial constraints that dictate the expected relationships between ecosystem properties and their geographical drivers at macroscales. Our results also suggest that understanding the spatial scales at which ecological processes operate is necessary to predict the effects of multi‐scaled environmental changes on ecosystem properties.

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  3. Abstract

    Although spatial and temporal variation in ecological properties has been well‐studied, crucial knowledge gaps remain for studies conducted at macroscales and for ecosystem properties related to material and energy. We test four propositions of spatial and temporal variation in ecosystem properties within a macroscale (1000 km's) extent. We fit Bayesian hierarchical models to thousands of observations from over two decades to quantify four components of variation – spatial (local and regional) and temporal (local and coherent); and to model their drivers. We found strong support for three propositions: (1) spatial variation at local and regional scales are large and roughly equal, (2) annual temporal variation is mostly local rather than coherent, and, (3) spatial variation exceeds temporal variation. Our findings imply that predicting ecosystem responses to environmental changes at macroscales requires consideration of the dominant spatial signals at both local and regional scales that may overwhelm temporal signals.

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  4. Abstract

    Wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent across much of the United States due to anthropogenic climate change. No studies, however, have assessed fire prevalence in lake watersheds at broad spatial and temporal scales, and thus it is unknown whether wildfires threaten lakes and reservoirs (hereafter, lakes) of the United States. We show that fire activity has increased in lake watersheds across the continental United States from 1984 to 2015, particularly since 2005. Lakes have experienced the greatest fire activity in the western United States, Southern Great Plains, and Florida. Despite over 30 years of increasing fire exposure, fire effects on fresh waters have not been well studied; previous research has generally focused on streams, and most of the limited lake‐fire research has been conducted in boreal landscapes. We therefore propose a conceptual model of how fire may influence the physical, chemical, and biological properties of lake ecosystems by synthesizing the best available science from terrestrial, aquatic, fire, and landscape ecology. This model also highlights emerging research priorities and provides a starting point to help land and lake managers anticipate potential effects of fire on ecosystem services provided by fresh waters and their watersheds.

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  5. Abstract

    Aquatic scientists require robust, accurate information about nutrient concentrations and indicators of algal biomass in unsampled lakes in order to understand and predict the effects of global climate and land‐use change. Historically, lake and landscape characteristics have been used as predictor variables in regression models to generate nutrient predictions, but often with significant uncertainty. An alternative approach to improve predictions is to leverage the observed relationship between water clarity and nutrients, which is possible because water clarity is more commonly measured than lake nutrients. We used a joint‐nutrient model that conditioned predictions of total phosphorus, nitrogen, and chlorophyll aon observed water clarity. Our results demonstrated substantial reductions (8–27%; median = 23%) in prediction error when conditioning on water clarity. These models will provide new opportunities for predicting nutrient concentrations of unsampled lakes across broad spatial scales with reduced uncertainty.

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  6. Abstract

    There are multiple protocols for determining total nitrogen (TN) in water, but most can be grouped into direct approaches (TN‐d) that convert N forms to nitrogen‐oxides (NOx) and combined approaches (TN‐c) that combine Kjeldahl N (organic N +NH3) and nitrite+nitrate (NO2+NO3‐N). TN concentrations from these two approaches are routinely treated as equal in studies that use data derived from multiple sources (i.e., integrated data sets) despite the distinct chemistries of the two methods. We used two integrated data sets to determine if TN‐c and TN‐d results were interchangeable. Accuracy, determined as the difference between reported concentrations and the most probable value (MPV) of reference samples, was high and similar in magnitude (within 3.5–4.5% of the MPV) for both methods, although the bias was significantly smaller at low concentrations for TN‐d. Detection limits and data flagged as below detection suggested greater sensitivity for TN‐d for one data set, while patterns from the other data set were ambiguous. TN‐c results were more variable (less precise) by many measures, although TN‐d data included a small fraction of notably inaccurate results. Precision of TN‐c was further compromised by propagated error, which may not be acknowledged or detectable in integrated data sets unless complete metadata are available and inspected. Finally, concurrent measures of TN‐c and TN‐d in lake samples were extremely similar. Overall, TN‐d tended to be slightly more accurate and precise, but similarities in accuracy and the near 1 : 1 relationship for concurrent TN‐d and TN‐c measurements support careful use of data interchangeably in analyses of heterogeneous, integrated data sets.

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  7. Abstract

    Although ecosystems respond to global change at regional to continental scales (i.e., macroscales), model predictions of ecosystem responses often rely on data from targeted monitoring of a small proportion of sampled ecosystems within a particular geographic area. In this study, we examined how the sampling strategy used to collect data for such models influences predictive performance. We subsampled a large and spatially extensive data set to investigate how macroscale sampling strategy affects prediction of ecosystem characteristics in 6,784 lakes across a 1.8‐million‐km2area. We estimated model predictive performance for different subsets of the data set to mimic three common sampling strategies for collecting observations of ecosystem characteristics: random sampling design, stratified random sampling design, and targeted sampling. We found that sampling strategy influenced model predictive performance such that (1) stratified random sampling designs did not improve predictive performance compared to simple random sampling designs and (2) although one of the scenarios that mimicked targeted (non‐random) sampling had the poorest performing predictive models, the other targeted sampling scenarios resulted in models with similar predictive performance to that of the random sampling scenarios. Our results suggest that although potential biases in data sets from some forms of targeted sampling may limit predictive performance, compiling existing spatially extensive data sets can result in models with good predictive performance that may inform a wide range of science questions and policy goals related to global change.

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  8. Abstract

    Growth of macroscale limnological research has been accompanied by an increase in secondary datasets compiled from multiple sources. We examined patterns of data availability in LAGOS‐NE, a dataset derived from 87 sources, to identify biases in availability of lake water quality data and to consider how such biases might affect perceived patterns at a subcontinental scale. Of eight common water quality parameters, variables indicative of trophic state (Secchi, chlorophyll, and total P) were most abundant in terms of total observations, lakes sampled, and long‐term records, whereas carbon variables (true color and dissolved organic carbon) were scarcest. Most data were collected during summer from larger (≥ 20 ha) lakes over 1–3 yr. Approximately 80% of data for each variable is derived from ~ 20% of sampled lakes. Long‐term (≥ 20 yr) records were rare and spatially clustered. Data availability is linked to major management challenges (eutrophication and acid rain), citizen science, and a few programs that quantify C and N variables. Resampling exercises suggested that correcting for the surface area sampling bias did not substantially change statistical distributions of the eight variables. Further, estimating a lake's long‐term median Secchi, chlorophyll, and total P using average record lengths had high uncertainty, but modest increases in sample size to > 5 yr yielded estimates with manageable error. Although the specific nature of sampling biases may vary among regions, we expect that they are widespread. Thus, large integrated datasets can and should be used to identify tendencies in how lakes are studied and to address these biases as part broad‐scale limnological investigations.

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  9. The LAGOS-US LIMNO data package is one of the core data modules of LAGOS-US, an extensible research-ready platform designed to study the 479,950 lakes and reservoirs larger than or equal to 1 ha in the conterminous US (48 states plus the District of Columbia). The LIMNO module contains in situ observations of 47 parameters of lake physics, chemistry, and biology (hereafter referred to as chemistry) from lake surface samples (defined as observations taken from the epilimnion of a lake) obtained from the Water Quality Portal, the National Lakes Assessment (2007, 2012, 2017), and NEON programs. LIMNO provides 3,511,020 observations across all parameters collected between 1975 and 2021 from 20,329 lakes; the number of observations per lake ranged from 1 to 20,605 with a median of 32. The database design that supports the LAGOS-US research platform was created based on several important design features: lakes are the fundamental unit of consideration, all lakes in the spatial extent above the minimum size must be represented, and most information is connected to individual lakes. The design is modular, interoperable (the modules can be used with each other, as well as other comprehensive lake data products such as the USGS NHD), and extensible (future database modules can be developed and used in the LAGOS-US research platform by others). Users are encouraged to use the other two core data modules that are part of the LAGOS-US platform: LOCUS (location, identifiers, and physical characteristics of lakes and their watersheds) and GEO (characteristics defining geospatial and temporal ecological setting quantified at multiple spatial divisions) that are each found in their own data packages. 
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