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Tropical high-altitude Andean lakes located above the tree line attenuate UV-A radiation more strongly than typical temperate alpine lakes.

  • Aguilera, Ximena
  • Lazzaro, Xavier
  • Coronel, Jorge S
Published Article
Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences
The Royal Society of Chemistry
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2013
DOI: 10.1039/c3pp25285j
PMID: 23722356


Tropical high-altitude Andean lakes are physically harsh ecosystems. Located above the treeline (≥4000 m a.s.l.), they share common features with temperate alpine lakes, which impose extreme conditions on their aquatic organisms: e.g., strong winds, broad diel variations in water temperature, and intense solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR). However, because of their latitude, they differ in two major ecological characteristics: they lack ice cover during the winter and they do not present summer water column stratification. We sampled 26 tropical high-altitude Andean lakes from three regions of the Bolivian Eastern Andes Cordillera during the wet period (austral summer). We performed an ordination to better describe the typology of Andean lakes in relation to the environmental variables, and we assessed the relationships among them, focussing on the UV-A transparency (360 nm) throughout the water column. We found a positive correlation between UV-A transparency calculated as Z(1%) (the depth which reaches 1% of the surface UV-A), the lake maximum depth and Secchi transparency (r = 0.61). Z(1%) of UV-A was smaller in shallow lakes than in deep lakes, indicating that shallow lakes are less transparent to UV-A than deep lakes. We hypothesize that, compared to shallow lakes, deep lakes (maximum depth > 10 m) may have lower dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations (that absorb UV radiation) due to lower temperature and reduced macrophyte cover. Based on our data, tropical high-altitude Andean lakes are less transparent to UV-A (K(d) range = 1.4-11.0 m(-1); Z(1%) depth range = 0.4-3.2 m) than typical temperate alpine lakes (1-6 m(-1), 3-45 m, respectively). Moreover, they differ in vertical profiles of UV-A, chlorophyll-a, and temperature, suggesting that they may have a distinct ecological functioning. Such peculiarities justify treating tropical high-altitude Andean lakes as a separate category of alpine lakes. Tropical high-altitude Andean lakes have been poorly studied. Thus they deserve more in-depth studies in the face of global changes regarding the use of their UV transparency as a sentinel proxy of climate changes, particularly global warming.

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