Abstract

The Chilean lake district includes diverse lentic ecosystems along ca. 700 km of the country (36°–43°S), including the “Nahuelbutan lakes”, “Araucanian lakes” and “Chiloe lakes”. This area is recognized as an important “hot spot” of benthic freshwater biodiversity in Southern South America. In Chilean temperate lakes, increased nutrient loads of P and N caused eutrophication, particularly in the Nahuelbutan Lakes. The freshwater Hyriidae mussel Diplodon chilensis (Gray, 1828) which is one of the most abundant species in Chilean temperate lakes, is known to be very susceptible to eutrophication. This species presents a clear reduction in its geographic ranges and is considered to be a threatened species in many Chilean lakes. In this study, we used a correlative approach to determine how eutrophication-driven changes in the food supply and in geographical parameters of different Chilean lakes affected the shell growth rates of D. chilensis. The results obtained from sclerochronological analyses of the mussel shells suggest an association with a group of environmental variables, including geographical types (negative), such as latitude and altitude, and limnological types (positive), especially phosphorous and turbidity. However, the D. chilensis populations under extreme conditions of turbidity in eutrophic and hypertrophic lakes are extinct or nearly so. The high positive correlation of the mean D. chilensis growth rates with orthophosphate (R=0.76; P<0.05), in relation to dissolved inorganic nitrogen, suggests that P is the major limiting factor of the primary productivity in Chilean temperate lakes. We discuss some implications of our results in terms of the conservation of biodiversity in temperate lake ecosystems at different taxonomic levels.

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