Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are undergoing oligotrophication after reduction of phosphorus loading, invasion by dreissenid mussels and variation in climate, provide an opportunity to conduct large-scale evaluation of the relative importance of these changes for lake productivity. We used remote sensing, field data and an information-theoretic approach to identify factors that showed statistical relationships with observed changes in chlorophyll a (chla) and primary production (PP).
Spring phosphorus (TP), annual mean chla and PP have all declined significantly in both lakes since the late 1990s. Additionally, monthly mean values of chla have decreased in many but not all months, indicating altered seasonal patterns. The most striking change has been the decrease in chla concentration during the spring bloom.
Mean chlorophyll a concentration was 17% higher in Lake Michigan than in Lake Huron, and total production for 2008 in Lake Michigan (9.5 tg year−1) was 10% greater than in Lake Huron (7.8 tg year−1), even though Lake Michigan is slightly smaller (by 3%) than Lake Huron. Differences between the lakes in the early 1970s evidently persisted to 2008.
Invasive mussels influenced temporal trends in spring chla and annual primary production. However, TP had a greater effect on chla and primary production than did the mussels, and TP varied independently from them. Two climatic variables (precipitation and air temperature in the basins) influenced annual chla and annual PP, while the extent of ice cover influenced TP but not chla or primary production. Our results demonstrate that observed temporal patterns in chla and PP are the result of complex interactions of P, climate and invasive mussels.