Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jason D. Stockwell


Climate change has rapidly altered winter conditions in temperate regions of the globe. Over the last several decades, snowpack has decreased, spring snowmelt is earlier, and ice cover has declined. Associated changes in lake mixing, inflow, nutrient cycling, and light transmission during winter can affect lake biota both under ice and into the open-water season. Unfortunately, under-ice lake research is limited compared to open-water research. Recent winter limnology research, however, suggests that ecosystem processes do not stop under ice, and many questions remain about the drivers of phytoplankton and zooplankton dynamics in winter. My research aimed to uncover mechanisms by which winter conditions influence plankton communities to better predict future changes in lakes.

To start, I evaluated traditional microscopy head-to-head with a new technology, FlowCAM, for phytoplankton sample processing. FlowCAM processing was faster than microscopy and estimated similar phytoplankton biovolumes, but taxonomic resolution was insufficient to assess communities at a fine taxonomic scale. Consequently, I used microscopy for the remainder of my studies.

Next, I examined drivers of plankton community structure during winter and spring in Shelburne Pond, Vermont. I used a novel experimental application of mesocosms and found that light limitation outweighs the effects of zooplankton grazing on phytoplankton communities under ice. Surprisingly, I also found that zooplankton had significant effects – they selectively grazed some phytoplankton and altered nutrient cycling through excretion. Inter-annual variability in Shelburne Pond winter conditions altered phenology and taxonomic composition of spring plankton blooms, suggesting a link between winter weather conditions and trajectories of plankton communities for the spring. For example, the warmest winter in my four-year field study had the lowest water temperatures, which led to a temporal mismatch in spring phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms.

In the final section of my dissertation, I used long-term data sets to examine how changes in winter/spring runoff timing influence summer lake productivity. I used stream gauge data from the Laurentian Great Lakes Basin and found evidence of earlier runoff, more protracted runoff, and a higher volume of runoff over time in most of the lakes. I then gathered data sets from 41 temperate lakes across North America and Europe and found that earlier runoff was associated with lower summer phytoplankton productivity in many lakes, likely due to differences in nutrient cycling in years with mid-winter melts compared to years with a single, large snowmelt pulse in spring. My research points to several mechanisms by which climate change will affect plankton communities, including changes in nutrient cycling associated with snowmelt, shifts in spring plankton phenology, and changes in the light environment under ice.



Number of Pages

271 p.