Abstract

Phytoplankton species show a variety in morphology which is the result of adaptations to pelagic life including responses to fluctuations in water column dynamics driven by weather conditions. This has been reported in the oceans and in Northern temperate lakes. In order to observe whether tropical freshwater phytoplankton responds to seasonal variation in weather, the weekly variation in temperature of the water column and phytoplankton composition was studied in Lake Fraijanes, Costa Rica, a shallow (6.2m) lake at 1 640m above sea level. A chain of data loggers for temperature was placed in the deepest point in the lake to register temperature every hour at four different depths, and phytoplankton samples were retrieved every week for a year. Additional monthly samples for nutrients were taken at two depths. Notwithstanding its shallowness, the lake developed a thermal gradient which kept the water column stratified for several months during dry season. Whole lake overturns occurred during cold spells with intense precipitation. Phytoplankton changed throughout the year mainly through a shift in dominant taxa. From September to February the lake was frequently mixed by rain storms and windy weather. At this time, phytoplankton was dominated by Chlorococcal green algae. From March to June, the lake was stratified and warmer. Phytoplankton became dominated by Cyanobateria, mainly colonial Chroococcales. The rainy season started again in May 2009. During June and July the lake started to mix intermittently during rain events and phytoplankton showed a brief increase in the contribution of Chlorococcales. These changes fitted well to a general model of phytoplankton succession based on functional groups identified according to their morphology and adaptations.
Keywords: tropical limnology, lakes, phytoplankton, weather variation, stratification, ecology