, Volume 623, Issue 1, pp 37–52 | Cite as

Effects of within-lake gradients on the distribution of fossil chironomids from maar lakes in western Alaska: implications for environmental reconstructions

Primary research paper


We examined fossil chironomids (Diptera: Chironomidae) in the surface sediments of four maar lakes in western Alaska to determine chironomid distribution patterns with respect to within-lake gradients of water depth, LOI (loss-on-ignition), and bottom-water temperature. Linear and non-linear regressions were undertaken to test whether the within-lake distributions of fossil chironomids were uniform. Additionally, water depths where abrupt changes or breakpoints in the assemblages occur were identified using piecewise regression. Direct gradient analysis was then used to examine variation in the assemblages explained by the environmental data. For the shallowest lake, chironomid abundances of individual taxa and inferred temperatures varied little within the lake. For the three deep lakes, seven of the sixteen commonest fossil taxa varied significantly with water depth, although some lake-specific patterns were evident. Water depth was generally identified as the principal environmental variable in explaining variation in the assemblages, although sediment organic matter content and bottom-water temperature were also important. Abrupt changes in assemblages occurred at different water depths in each lake, and at only one lake did the breakpoint occur within the range of water depths defining the thermocline. Chironomid-inferred temperature trends from the lakes also showed depth-related patterns: the warmest inferred temperatures were generally from both the shallowest and deepest water depths, whereas intermediate depths yielded temperature inferences about 0.5 to 1.0°C cooler than the average within-lake value. Nevertheless, we conclude that these patterns had only a slight impact on temperature reconstructions relative to the prediction error of the model. A greater understanding of taphonomic processes is needed to determine their influence on environmental reconstructions based on chironomids.


Chironomids Maar Water depth Environmental reconstructions Alaska 



We would like to thank the Austins for their hospitality while on St. Michael Island and Jesse Vermaire for help with fieldwork. Andrew Rees gave constructive comments on an early draft and provided invaluable assistance with R language and piecewise regression. We also thank Erin Barley and Isabelle Larocque for chironomid-depth data contributions. Two anonymous reviewers substantially improved this paper. This project was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) with grants to L.C. Cwynar and a postgraduate scholarship (PGS B) with Northern Studies Supplemental Funding to J. Kurek. Funding from the Northern Scientific Training Program (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) is also greatly appreciated.


  1. Barley, E. M., 2004. Palaeoclimate Analysis of Southwestern Yukon Territory Using Subfossil Chironomid Remains from Antifreeze Pond. MSc thesis, Simon Fraser University.Google Scholar
  2. Barley, E. M., I. R. Walker, J. Kurek, L. C. Cwynar, R. W. Mathewes, K. Gajewski & B. Finney, 2006. A northwest North America training set: distribution of freshwater midges in relation to air temperature and lake depth. Journal of Paleolimnology 36: 295–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Birks, H. J. B., 1998. Numerical tools in palaeolimnology—progress, potentialities, and problems. Journal of Paleolimnology 20: 307–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brodersen, K. P. & C. Lindegaard, 1999. Classification, assessment and trophic reconstruction of Danish lakes using chironomids. Freshwater Biology 42: 143–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brodersen, K. P. & R. Quinlan, 2006. Midges as palaeoindicators of lake productivity, eutrophication and hypolimnetic oxygen. Quaternary Science Reviews 25: 1995–2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brundin, L., 1949. Chironomiden und andere Bodentiere der südschwedischen Urgebirgsseen. Report of the Institute of Freshwater Research 30: 1–914.Google Scholar
  7. Dean W. E. Jr., 1974. Determination of carbonate and organic matter in calcareous sediments and sedimentary rocks by loss on ignition: comparison with other methods. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 44: 242–248.Google Scholar
  8. Eggermont, H., P. De Deyne & D. Verschuren, 2007. Spatial variability of chironomid death assemblages in the surface sediments of a fluctuating tropical lake (Lake Naivasha, Kenya). Journal of Paleolimnology 38: 309–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frey, D. G., 1988. Littoral and offshore communities of diatoms, cladocerans, and dipterous larvae, and their interpretation in paleolimnology. Journal of Paleolimnology 1: 179–191.Google Scholar
  10. Gajewski, K., G. Bouchard, S. E. Wilson, J. Kurek & L. C. Cwynar, 2005. Distribution of Chironomidae (Insecta: Diptera) head capsules in recent sediments of Canadian Arctic lakes. Hydrobiologia 549: 131–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Glew, J., 1991. Miniature gravity corer for recovering short sediment cores. Journal of Paleolimnology 5: 285–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Heegaard, E., A. F. Lotter & H. J. B. Birks, 2006. Aquatic biota and the detection of climate change: are there consistent aquatic ecotones? Journal of Paleolimnology 35: 507–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heiri, O., 2004. Within-lake variability of subfossil chironomid assemblages in shallow Norwegian lakes. Journal of Paleolimnology 32: 67–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heiri, O. & A. F. Lotter, 2001. Effect of low count sums on quantitative environmental reconstructions: an example using subfossil chironomids. Journal of Paleolimnology 26: 343–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heiri, O., A. F. Lotter & G. Lemcke, 2001. Loss on ignition as a method for estimating organic and carbonate content in sediments: reproducibility and comparability of results. Journal of Paleolimnology 25: 101–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heiri, O., H. J. B. Birks, S. J. Brooks, G. Velle & E. Willassen, 2003. Effects of within-lake variability of fossil assemblages on quantitative chironomid-inferred temperature reconstruction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 199: 95–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heiri, O., T. Ekrem & E. Willassen, 2004. Larval head capsules of European Micropsectra, Paratanytarsus, and Tanytarsus (Diptera: Chironomidae: Tanytarsini). Version 1.0. http://www.bio.uu.nl/(palaeo/Chironomids/Tanytarsini/intro.htm.
  18. Hofmann, W., 1988. The significance of chironomid analysis (Insecta: Diptera) for paleolimnological research. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 62: 501–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hofmann, W., 1998. Cladocerans and chironomids as indicators of lake-level change in north temperate lakes. Journal of Paleolimnology 19: 55–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ihaka, R. & R. Gentleman, 1996. R: a language for data analysis and graphics. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics 5: 299–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Iovino, A. J., 1975. Extant Chironomid Larval Populations and the Representativeness and Nature of Their Remains in Lake Sediments. PhD thesis, Indiana University.Google Scholar
  22. Kansanen, P. H., 1986. Information value of chironomid remains in the uppermost sediment layers of a complex lake basin. Hydrobiologia 143: 159–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kattel, G. R., R. W. Battarbee, A. Mackay & H. J. B. Birks, 2007. Are cladoceran fossils in lake sediment samples a biased reflection of the communities from which they are derived? Journal of Paleolimnology 38: 157–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Korhola, A., H. Olander & T. Blom, 2000. Cladoceran and chironomid assemblages as quantitative indicators of water depth in subarctic Fennoscandian lakes. Journal of Paleolimnology 24: 43–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kurek, J. & L.C. Cwynar, in press. The potential of site-specific and local chironomid-based inference models for reconstructing past lake levels. Journal of Paleolimnology. doi: 10.1007/s10933-008-9246-y
  26. Larocque, I., 2001. How many chironomid head capsules are enough? A statistical approach to determine sample size for palaeoclimatic reconstructions. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 172: 133–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Larocque, I., R. Pienitz & N. Rolland, 2006. Factors influencing the distribution of chironomids in lakes distributed along a latitudinal gradient in northwestern Quebec, Canada. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 63: 1286–1297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nyman, M., A. Korhola & S. J. Brooks, 2005. The distribution and diversity of Chironomidae (Insecta: Diptera) in western Finnish Lapland, with special emphasis on shallow lakes. Global Ecology and Biogeography 14: 137–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Olander, H., H. J. B. Birks, A. Korhola & T. Blom, 1999. An expanded calibration model for inferring lakewater and air temperatures from fossil chironomid assemblages in northern Fennoscandia. The Holocene 9: 279–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Oliver, D. R. & M. E. Roussel, 1983. The Insects and Arachnids of Canada Part 11: the genera of larval midges of Canada-Diptera: Chironomidae. Agriculture Canada Publication 1746.Google Scholar
  31. Pedersen, C. R., 2005. A Chironomid-based Paleoclimatic Investigation of Marcella Lake, Southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. MSc thesis, University of New Brunswick.Google Scholar
  32. Porinchu, D. F. & L. C. Cwynar, 2000. The distribution of freshwater Chironomidae (Insecta: Diptera) across treeline near the lower Lena River, northeast Siberia. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 32: 429–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Quinlan, R. & J. P. Smol, 2001a. Chironomid-based inference models for estimating end-of-summer hypolimnetic oxygen from south-central Ontario shield lakes. Freshwater Biology 46: 1529–1551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Quinlan, R. & J. P. Smol, 2001b. Setting minimum head capsule abundance and taxa deletion criteria in chironomid-based inference models. Journal of Paleolimnology 26: 327–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schmäh, A., 1993. Variation among fossil chironomid assemblages in surficial sediments of Bodensee-Untersee (SW Germany): implications for paleolimnological interpretation. Journal of Paleolimnology 9: 99–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. ter Braak, C. F. J. & P. Šmilauer, 2002. CANOCO Reference Manual and CanoDraw for Windows User’s Guide: software for Canonical Community Ordination (v 4.5). Microcomputer Power, Ithaca NY, USA.Google Scholar
  37. Toms, J. D. & M. L. Lesperance, 2003. Piecewise regression: a tool for identifying ecological thresholds. Ecology 84: 2034–2041.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Walker, I. R., 2001. Midges: Chironomidae and related Diptera. In Smol, J. P., H. J. B. Birks & W. M. Last (eds), Tracking environmental change using lake sediments, Vol. 4, Zoological Indicators. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht: 43–66.Google Scholar
  39. Walker, I. R. & G. M. MacDonald, 1995. Distributions of Chironomidae (Insecta: Diptera) and other freshwater midges with respect to treeline, Northwest Territories, Canada. Arctic and Alpine Research 27: 258–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Walker, I. R., C. H. Fernando & C. G. Patterson, 1984. The chironomid fauna of four shallow, humic lakes and their representation by subfossil assemblages in the surficial sediments. Hydrobiologia 112: 61–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Walker, I. R., J. P. Smol, D. R. Engstrom & H. J. B. Birks, 1991. An assessment of Chironomidae as quantitative indicators of past climatic change. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 48: 975–987.Google Scholar
  42. Walker, I. R., A. J. Levesque, L. C. Cwynar & A. F. Lotter, 1997. An expanded surface-water paleotemperature inference model for use with fossil midges from eastern Canada. Journal of Paleolimnology 18: 165–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Walker, I. R., A. J. Levesque, R. Pienitz & J. P. Smol, 2003. Freshwater midges of the Yukon and adjacent Northwest Territories: a new tool for reconstructing Beringian paleoenvironments? Journal of the North American Benthological Society 22: 323–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wetzel, R. G., 2001. Limnology-lake and river ecosystems. Academic Press, San Diego.Google Scholar
  45. Wiederholm, T., 1979. Chironomid remains in recent sediments of Lake Washington. Northwest Science 53: 251–256.Google Scholar
  46. Wiederholm, T., 1983. Chironomidae of the Holarctic region. Keys and diagnoses Part I. Larvae. Entomologica Scandinavica Supplement 19: 1–457.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

Personalised recommendations