North Temperate Lakes LTER

Biocomplexity project team beach seining to obtain population estimates of bluegill and young-of-the-year largemouth bass to determine the impact of coarse woody habitat on fish communities. Study site: Camp Lake, Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin. 2007. Danielle Haak.

Key Research Findings:

We are implementing new technologies for studying the environment through formation of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), a grassroots network of scientists and information technology experts who use data from instrumented buoys around the world to understand the complex coupling of physical and biological processes in lakes.
NTL researchers developed the "lake landscape position" concept to explain spatial variability in water chemistry and community composition that results from a shifting balance of groundwater, surface water, and precipitation inputs to adjacent lakes.
Eutrophication, the over-enrichment of freshwaters with nutrients, is caused by complex interactions of people and ecosystems that are hard to manage. A long-term perspective shows how management can adapt to changing social and ecological realities, learning from failures and building on successes.


Lakes are conspicuous, ecologically-important, and socially-valued components of landscapes. Lakes collect water, energy, solutes and pollutants from the land and atmosphere, provide habitats and resources for organisms, and interact with diverse human activities. The North Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research program aims to understand the ecology of lakes in relation to relevant atmospheric, geochemical, landscape and human processes. Our overarching research question is “How do biophysical setting, climate, and changing land use and cover interact to shape lake characteristics and dynamics over time (past, present, future)?”

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The North Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research (NTL-LTER) program was established in 1981. Over the past 20 years we have designed and implemented a comprehensive study of seven lakes in a forested landscape within the Northern Highland Lake District in northern Wisconsin, and since 1994, an additional four lakes in the agricultural and urban catchments in southern Wisconsin. We have increased our understanding of long-term dynamics of lakes at spatial scales ranging from small sites within lakes to the northern hemisphere.

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Research Topics:

Physical, chemical and biological limnology; hydrology and geochemistry; paleolimnology; climate forcing; producer and consumer ecology; ecology of invasions; ecosystem variability; landscape ecology; lake, landscape and human interactions.

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