Why Are Ponds Biogeochemical Hotspots?

Ponds are critically important ecosystems: They store and transform nutrients and carbon, filter contaminants, and promote biodiversity. The rates of these ecosystem services are disproportionately greater in ponds relative to larger lakes. The high levels of biogeochemical activity in ponds compared to lakes may be the result of their shallow waters, which increase interactions between bottom (benthic) and surface (pelagic) waters, referred to as benthic-pelagic coupling. Although aquatic ecosystem function is known to depend on processes that occur in both benthic and pelagic habitats, the effects of benthic-pelagic coupling on ecosystem function are not fully understood.

With this CAREER award, Meredith A. Holgerson, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is studying how the strength of benthic-pelagic coupling influences ecosystem function in temperate ponds. Researchers will pursue three aims: 1) to link the strength and timing of benthic-pelagic coupling to ecosystem function; 2) to determine how light availability and animal communities affect benthic-pelagic coupling; and 3) to establish how benthic-pelagic coupling influences water chemistry and public perceptions of water quality.

The results of this project will inform models of inland water carbon emissions and could improve recommendations for designing constructed ponds that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. This research also engages with state water managers to advise on water quality standards for shallow waters. More broadly, this project will help us understand how ponds function and enable us to better predict how they will respond to warming, increased levels of minerals and nutrients (eutrophication), algal blooms, and other environmental changes.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$850 Thousand spanning 5 years