Atmospheric stilling offsets the benefits from reduced nutrient loading in a large shallow lake
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As part of a global phenomenon, a 30% decrease in average wind speed since 1996 in southern Estonia together with more frequent easterly winds resulted in 47% decrease in bottom shear stress in the large (270 km2), shallow (mean depth 2.8 m), and eutrophic Lake Võrtsjärv. Following a peak in eutrophication pressure in the 1970s–80s, the concentrations of total nutrients were declining. Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling (NMDS) ordination of a 54-year phytoplankton community composition time-series (1964–2017) revealed three distinct periods with breaking points coinciding with changes in wind and/or water level. Contrary to expectations, we detected no decrease in optically active substances that could be related to wind stilling, whereas phytoplankton biomass showed an increasing trend despite reduced nutrient levels. Here we show how opening of the “light niche,” caused by declining amount of suspended sediments, was capitalized and filled by the light-limited phytoplankton community. We suggest that wind stilling is another global factor, complementary to climate warming that counteracts eutrophication mitigation in lakes and may provide a challenge to assessment of the lake ecological status.Main financial support for EMU: European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme Under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action, Innovative Training Networks, European Joint Doctorates.Project name, acronym and grant number: Management of climatic extreme events in lakes and reservoirs for the protection of ecosystem services, MANTEL, grant agreement No 722518.Publication date and, if applicable, length of embargo period: Published as Early View on 07.10.2019, no embargo period.